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Published: Wednesday, 12/27/2006

Donations keep COSI doors open - for now

BY JENNI LAIDMAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Donations are keeping COSI Toledo alive.

Officials at the hands-on children s science museum warned at the start of this year that it would be closed by Sunday without an operating levy, which Lucas County voters narrowly rejected last month.

Although the hands-on children s science museum will end 2006 with a measly $35,000 in its operating budget, contributions amounting to a couple hundred thousand dollars from The Anderson Foundation, KeyBank, and others may keep the institution operating long enough to forge a future, said Dr. F. Michael Walsh, chairman of COSI s executive board.

As of today, we certainly have enough money to survive based on the generosity of private individuals and foundations, Dr. Walsh told The Blade yesterday.

But you can t go back to the same people over and over again. There comes a point where they say, Fix it or that s it, he added.

The issue comes back to what the issue has always been: whether we can find a partner, or we go to a levy again.

In November, Lucas County voters defeated a 0.167-mill, five-year tax by about 1,200 votes.

David Waterman, a member of the COSI executive board, said the COSI board could place another 0.167-mill issue on the ballot as early as May.

We were so very close in November we felt we had created a pretty favorable mindset with the public, Mr. Waterman said.

If we waited too long, that memory would disappear. So we wanted to go back while it was somewhat fresh.

However, Mr. Waterman acknowledged another levy try could be terribly expensive.

If a COSI levy is the only issue on the May ballot, the Lucas County Board of Elections estimates it could cost COSI almost $500,000 to pay for the cost of the polling.

By comparison, COSI s operating budget for the fiscal year that ended in June was $3.2 million.

It s prohibitive, Dr. Walsh said of a solo ballot levy. That s going to be awfully difficult to raise money for. We need money to cover the election. Then we need money to run the campaign.

But Mark Luetke of Funk Luet ke Skunda, who advises the COSI board on election issues, said the election may not cost that much.

My sense is that the estimate was made sort of in a quick fashion by a Board of Election staff pretty much under the gun trying to finish off the 2006 election, he said.

In addition, Mr. Luetke said it s possible Toledo Public Schools may also put an issue on the May ballot, which would defray some of the cost.

Toledo Board of Education member Larry Sykes has asked several times when the board would consider putting a levy on the ballot, but there has been no formal discussion.

In the meantime, Dr. Walsh is talking to the Toledo Zoo and the University of Toledo to form partnerships for science education that might help fund some COSI operations.

But so far, the talk has been very general.

Right now, all we ve really done is have some brainstorms, Anne Baker, Toledo Zoo executive director, said yesterday.

When COSI s closing appeared imminent, the zoo talked about contracting to hire a couple of COSI s education staff members.

Since the museum has secured other funding, however, that plan has faded.

We ve really talked more about collaborations since then, Ms. Baker said.

For instance, the zoo plans to emphasize the polar regions in the coming year to mark the birth of three new polar bear cubs in late November.

A collaboration could have the zoo dealing with the biological issues of global warming at the poles, while COSI might deal with the atmospheric science, she said.

Nobody s committed to anything, but it s a lot farther along than it was six months ago, than it was three months ago, Dr. Walsh said of the discussions.

They all understand our financial plight doesn t go away. If you want COSI to be around in one form or another, we re all gong to have to figure out how to do that.

Contact Jenni Laidman at: jenni@theblade.com or 419-724-6507.



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