Roeder Home in limbo

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The Whatcom County Homemade Music Society (HMS) recently received a Mayor’s Arts Award for its contribution to the local music scene, presented in the Whatcom Museum Rotunda Room on April 22. But as Rob Lopresti, the group’s representative accepting the award said, “It would be nice to have some place to hang this thing.”

The HMS, along with many other arts and cultural groups, had met regularly at the Roeder Home until early this year. The home has been effectively moth-balled, in the county’s attempt to trim $157,000 from the annual budget. In response to citizen comments in November 2008, County Executive Pete Kremen appointed a task force to come up with a plan for keeping the home open. The task force dutifully completed its report by the end of March, the appointed time frame, but so far there has not been much response from either Kremen or the county council.

According to Flip Breskin, one of the task force members, the actual savings to the county amount to $90,000 per year, rather than $157,000, since there are on-going expenses associated with building maintenance and grounds upkeep.

To be sure, there are some very modest attempts to make tours of the home available to the public, and it is available for rental to private groups. However, most activities from past years have been shut down.

The task force report, the product of three months of work by a group of seven citizens and two county staffers, recommends keeping the Roeder Home programs alive by shifting administrative responsibility from the county to an existing or yet-to-be-formed group. Allied Arts has expressed some interest in filling that role, but discussions are still very tentative.

The task force recommended that the administrative group, whether that be Allied Arts or another, would be allowed to keep revenue collected from events to help defray costs, and the county would continue to be responsible for maintaining the building and grounds.

At this point, the work of the task force is well on its way to becoming yet another piece of shelf art. As a community, we’ve been through this exercise in futility far too many times. Elected officials need to recognize that citizen involvement and recognition of their contribution needs follow-through, not just pandering lip service when concerned folks show up at public meetings.

The Roeder Home was donated in 1971 by the Keyes family “…exclusively for the use of the public for parks purposes or for use as a museum or historical site or other similar public use…” As the task force report states, “The Roeder Home represents a remarkable gift to the people of Whatcom County and deserves to be reestablished as an active venue for a variety of cultural uses.”

Over the last 30-plus years, the home has been an outstanding asset to the arts in Whatcom County, serving not only as a staging area for musical and cultural events, but has also fostered nascent arts groups. Allied Arts, Whatcom County in Bloom, the International Folk Dance Festival, and the Homemade Music Society, for example, all got their starts at the Roeder Home.

There remains a legalistic possibility that the current use of the home – negligible – would not be considered adequate to satisfy the terms of the gift, in which case the home would revert to the Keyes family. Rather than watching this amazing gift effectively mothballed or possibly taken back into private ownership, it is time for county leaders to respond to the task force recommendations and move forward.

What can you do? Contact council members and Pete Kremen to express your concern. The ball is very much in their court now, and they need to respond. By the way, Kremen will be on vacation till May 13.

About Sheri Ward

Citizen Journalist • Member since Feb 18, 2009