Webster Parish residents may soon see some progress on a long-awaited project thanks to The Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Commissioners (WPCVC), Chesapeake Energy and a few elected officials.
The Friends of Germantown Colony Museum met with the WPCVC’s this week and asked the commissioners to consider granting them $20,000 for changes to their original plan for a visitors’ center at the Colony.
The original plan has not been put into action, yet, and making the changes would be easier to do before construction is started.
“People want to see progress on this project,” said John Agan, a member of the advisory board for Friends of Germantown Colony Museum.
Agan explained to the commissioners the marketing for the Colony has to focus on small groups and changes made to the original plan would be to add more bathroom stalls to better accommodate those groups.
“As we moved forward with the Secretary of State’s office in their plans for the center, a major concern of both the Advisory Board of the Germantown Colony Museum and the Friends was the number of restrooms included in the state’s plans,” Otto Krouse, Chairman of the Friends of Germantown Colony Museum, said in a letter to the WPCVC. “The plans call for only two restrooms in the center. The problem arises because it is our current practice and our future plan to market the Germantown Colony Museum to large groups and group tours.
“In addition, we already host the Germantown Bluegrass Festival and plan other large-scale events in the future, particularly as Minden embraces the Fasching Festival. It was our opinion additional restrooms would be desirable.
However, the problem is that within the existing budget, the state could not afford to add restroom facilities.”
According to Agan, State Representative Jean Doerge explained that if the Friends of Germantown could raise $20,000 needed for the additional stalls in the restrooms, the state would include those in the original plans and bidding for the building could begin.
“We are coming to you because of what (to us) seems to be a narrow window of opportunity for us to have these needed restrooms included in the plans,” Agan explained. “Several reasons make it seem apparent that if such a construction is to take place, now is the time to do it and move forward.”
Of those factors, Krouse included the changing nature of state government in his letter.
“At this time, we have the strong support of Sen. Robert Adley and Rep. Doerge in Baton Rouge, and we have an agreement with the administration of Secretary of State Tom Schedler to make this happen,” Krouse wrote. “But, with the fall elections we know that Rep. Doerge is term-limited and both Sen. Adley and Secretary Schedler will face re-election campaigns.
“While we would believe that any local representatives would continue to lobby on our behalf, the years of experience, contacts and goodwill built up by Rep. Doerge and Sen. Adley cannot be duplicated.”
He added that it is not certain that a new Secretary of State will continue to support new construction due to budget issues.
“Another factor in our request is the matter of public perceptions,” Krouse continued. “It has been almost three years since the Colony became part of the state system. To the public, it appears nothing has happened and nothing is going on.”
At this point, The Friends of Germantown anticipate the building costing $250,000.
“According to state law, you have to have that in hand before the state can put it out for bid,” Rep. Doerge said. “This $20,000 we are asking for will bring it up to the $250,000 needed, even though we may not even need all of that for the project.”
After Rep. Doerge spoke, Secretary Schedler called in on a conference call. He said the state has decided to put the project out to bid beginning this week, even though the WPCVC had not voted on whether or not they would grant the Friends the requested $20,000.
“I feel good about it,” Secretary Schedler said on a conference call with the WPCVC and the Friends. “I have a vested interest in the project and I want it to succeed.”
“We are planting seed in Webster Parish,” WPVBC president Kerry Easley told the rest of the commissioners and visitors. “We want people to come here and that is one of the best historical spots we have to offer in this parish. We want to support it.
“That being said, Germantown needs to be frugal with their spending,” Easley continued. “We should grant them the $20,000, and if they don’t need it or all of it, they need to write us a refund check.”
Agan said that despite a possibility the project won’t cost the full $250,000, the Friends of Germantown do not want to discontinue fund-raising because of other needs that may arise as the project goes along.
Agan then announced that Chesapeake Energy had donated $5,000 to the project. That would bring the needed amount of money down to $15,000.
After the announcement, the WPCVC agreed to fund “up to $15,000” for the project with the stipulation they would get their money refunded should the project be lower than $250,000.
Easley added it would be a good idea to offer the bids to local construction crews.
“I hope they will offer to local bidders,” said Rep. Doerge. “That way our construction people will have a chance.”
At 4 p.m. that same day, Agan, Rep. Doerge, members of the City Council, Webster Parish Police Jury, Friends of the Germantown and WPCVC’s were present at Germantown Colony as Sarie Joubert, manager of public affairs for Chesapeake, presented the Friends with a $5,000 check.
“As I drove up here, I was in awe,” Joubert said. “This is authentic. What you have out here is the real thing. It’s just incredible, and we at Chesapeake are so proud to be a part of the Visitors Center that will make this spot even better.”
“As we invest and create jobs to responsibly develop natural gas in the Haynesville Shale, Chesapeake strives to be a valued community partner,” said Paul Pratt, Chesapeake’s Director of Corporate Development, Haynesville Shale. “We employ the same thoughtful approach with our philanthropic investments as we do in all of our operational efforts and embrace opportunities to devote resources to organizations such as the Germantown Colony State Museum that seek to preserve the rich cultural heritage of Northwest Louisiana.”
Bidding for the project begins this week and a final amount should be known within 30 days.