'Accreditation issue:' Amid projected $28M county budget shortfall, MPM in desperate need of repairs

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Public Museum officials asked the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Capital Improvements Subcommittee for more money to fix the fourth-floor roof and an air conditioning issue MPM officials said could cause the museum to lose its accreditation.

The committee meeting took place Tuesday, Aug. 20.

"It's getting worse and worse," said Ryan O'Desky, senior VP of operations and finance with MPM.

Milwaukee Public Museum leaders told the committee that the fourth-floor roof is beyond repair and needs to be replaced, noting the Asia/Africa exhibits had to be shut down from November 2018 until early August 2019 due to leakage and a risk of damage to the exhibits.

They added that the air conditioning/chiller also needs to be replaced, noting every time it shuts down, there's a risk of damage to some of the four million pieces in storage that require temperature control.

Ryan O'Desky

"Two projects," said O'Desky. "One is for our fourth-floor roof. That roof is well past its useful life. Second project on our list was the 300-ton chiller, which is our main chiller and AC system that we have for the museum."

Museum leaders said if the air conditioning issue isn't resolved, the museum could lose its accreditation, with the 10-year review from the American Association of Museums due in summer 2020. They said every time it rains or snows, parts of the third floor have to be closed to the public.

"We've had to close our third-floor exhibits, which is mainly Asia and a little Africa," said O'Desky. "Closed from November until about two weeks ago due to water leakage, and everything going into the floors there, and starting to go into the collections."

Committee members suggested moving some of the museum's collection off-site in order to keep the museum's accreditation, but museum leaders said they don't believe that would be possible without spending even more money -- noting these repairs are necessary despite the plan for a new museum. Leaders said in the best case scenario, ground wouldn't be broken on a new museum until 2022, and it wouldn't open for years.

"If it really starts getting that into the collections, we're going to not only have to shut down the collections, we're going to have to move those collections as well," said O'Desky. "There is an accreditation issue at this point, too, if we cannot keep collections at appropriate temperature."

It was estimated to cost $1.6 million to fix the issues, and county officials said money for the projects would have to be part of the Milwaukee County budget -- already facing a projected $28 million budget shortfall in 2020.

Dr. Ellen Censky, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum, issued this statement:

"As has been shared publicly and widely reported, the building that currently houses the Milwaukee Public Museum faces challenges. While we are at work to determine the future home for the museum, our current priority is to continue to partner with the County to ensure that the items and collections in our care remain safe and that the Wisconsin community continues to have access to the cultural and scientific institution they know and love."

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele issued this statement:

“The Milwaukee Public Museum has served residents and visitors for more than 130 years, providing museum-goers with an unparalleled opportunity to take a journey to another world. This is one of our most storied institutions, and I do not take lightly the need to preserve this and other community assets across Milwaukee County. That said, as a result of a decade-long funding imbalance with the state, our ability to maintain these assets at the level our residents deserve is approaching the breaking point. We need adequate support from the state, or a reliable revenue source so that we can put both Milwaukee County and all of Wisconsin on a path to a sustainable future.”