A NEW Milwaukee Public Museum? Officials explore whether new building should be built

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MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Public Museum officials said Tuesday, March 7th they're "investigating" whether to construct a new building. The president of the Milwaukee Public Museum stressed no plans have been finalized at this point. They are looking to either renovate the current building -- or move on.

"We ultimately need to think about how are we going to be the museum the city needs 100 or 200 years from now?" Dennis Kois, president and CEO of the Milwaukee Public Museum said.

According to a news release from MPM officials, an investigation is underway to determine whether a new building should be constructed to replace the failing Milwaukee County-owned building near 8th and Wells. The current building was built in 1963.

Dennis Kois

"We can renovate this museum, or ultimately we might have to find a path to consider building a new museum elsewhere in the city. That study is still underway. That work is still ongoing," Kois said.

Museum officials said the evaluation has been underway for the past two years and has involved Gallagher & Associates, a museum consultancy in Washington, DC, along with extensive community input. Kois said a decision would be based on protecting the four million items and collections inside the museum, while enhancing each guest's visit.

"We need to have a great experience for our visitors," Kois said.

Milwaukee Public Museum

Museum officials also announced a "staffing restructure" intended to "strengthen the financial position of the Museum and prepare it for changes ahead."

The Milwaukee Public Museum will be reducing its staff by 15 positions, while also creating several new positions. Overall, the staffing changes will reduce MPM’s expenses by more than $1 million dollars, or 8%, officials said in the release. The staffing changes will impact positions ranging from senior management to front line staff. The new positions will be added in areas such as collections digitization, collections and research, and digital media design over the coming year.

Milwaukee Public Museum

The staffing restructure comes as the Milwaukee Public Museum is seeing an increase in revenue, attendance, fundraising and membership.

According to MPM officials, since 2014, the Milwaukee Public Museum has seen a 33% increase in attendance, a 101% increase in attendance to the Planetarium/theater, a 38% increase in admissions, a 21% increase in membership, a 41% increase in retail revenue and a 13% increase in unrestricted fundraising.

Despite that success, however, officials said the Museum needs to align its staffing and expenses for future needs.

Milwaukee Public Museum

"Ultimately, we're still a non-profit and we're a charitable organization. We just need to make sure we're being prudent and responsible. Anything we might do here in the future would have to be able to top that experience -- whether we do it here or somewhere else," Kois said.

According to Museum officials, for 2017, MPM’s operating budget is $14.2 million and the Museum currently has 141 staff (prior to these reductions).

Milwaukee Public Museum

Kois said a decision as to the Milwaukee Public Museum's future will be made sometime this year. Exactly how much a new building would cost hasn't yet been determined.

Milwaukee Public Museum

Milwaukee Public Museum

Meanwhile, as it relates to the staffing restructure, officials with AFSCME Local 526 issued this statement:

On Tuesday, Milwaukee Public Museum management announced plans to cut $1 million dollars from employee's wages through layoffs and reduced hours. Fourteen union employees will be affected including the gutting of the world-renowned exhibits staff that made MPM's acclaimed exhibits.

MPM management referred to the $1 million cut as a “staffing restructure” in a Journal Sentinel article published Tuesday afternoon. This is not a "restructure" at all, it is a $1 million cut at the expense of MPM workers. To call this devastating cut anything less than a hatchet job is insulting to the people who have dedicated their lives to MPM's mission.

“MPM management is asking for millions in taxpayer money to build a fancy new building, while cutting the staff that makes MPM a special, clean, and safe gathering space for our community,” said Jaclyn Kelly, president of AFSCME Local 526. “Milwaukee will expect the same world-class museum exhibits and services. The loss of the people that do that highly skilled work will decrease MPM’s ability to provide the same educational and family experiences they’ve had for generations.”

MPM claims cutting staff will help them solve problems like poor collections care that puts their accreditation at risk. In fact, chronic understaffing has already posed a significant threat to collections care. In 2005 MPM cut about 40% of the staff, after which the Milwaukee Public Museum was never the same.  Now MPM is taking steps to further decrease MPM’s staffing levels. MPM’s highly specialized custodial, maintenance and security staffs protect collections from elements that can lead to their deterioration, such as temperature and humidity, leaks, and weather events. Cutting their positions puts the collections at more, not less, risk.

MPM has an ongoing practice of displacing union workers with outside contractors and AFSCME Local 526 has reason to believe this so-called “restructuring” in an excuse to further the use of non-union labor. In addition to using non-union labor, MPM’s plan for a new facility is contingent on cutting the staff who can best continue MPM’s standard of world-class exhibits in the next facility. AFSCME Local 526 believes these devastating cuts will hurt the museum’s ability to provide the world-class experience southeastern Wisconsin has grown accustomed to.

MPM has shown little regard for its represented staff and their well-organized and effective union, AFSCME Local 526. Some MPM staff first learned of the layoffs after reading about it in the news on Tuesday afternoon; another slap in the face. Recently, MPM management has shown disdain toward its union employees by retaliating against union leaders and outsourcing union work to outside contractors. MPM management told the union that laid-off positions will not be outsourced, but private non-union contractors are already doing bargaining unit work at MPM. A recent grievance filed by the union against this practice resulted in back pay for lost work after MPM hired a private contractor to do union work. It is no coincidence that four members of the union executive board for AFSCME Local 526 will be affected by these cuts.

Local 526 calls upon the Milwaukee Public Museum and Milwaukee County to maintain the jobs of people personally and professionally committed to providing outstanding public service, education, research, and programs in a safe, clean, child- and family-friendly environment.  Don’t lay off the people who make it happen."

The union has planned a picket for Wednesday, March 8th at 5:00 p.m. at MPM.