Future unknown: Museum fate up in the air

Plans to move the first country school in Ward County from a farm near Lonetree to a museum on the North Dakota State Fairgrounds are still on hold. So is the future of the Ward County Historical Society museum, say museum board members, who are waiting for the North Dakota State Fair Board’s next move.

“The (North Dakota State) Fair Board is using (the issue of moving the country school) to pressure us into an agreement that might not be in our best interest,” said Glynn Breuer, the president of the Ward County Historical Society.

The Sandstrom family gave the county historical society the little red school house, which was once the Graham No. 1 in St. Mary’s School District, located six miles east of Foxholm. John Sandstrom bought the school house when it closed in 1960 and moved it to his farm in Lonetree, where he restored the building and its contents. John Sandstrom’s son, Robert Sandstrom, gave the school house to the museum to replace a school building at the museum that was destroyed in the Souris River flood of 2011.

Plans had been made to move that school to the fairgrounds last December, but they were stalled when the fair board objected to the proposal. Last month the fair board passed a resolution requiring the Ward County Historical Society to develop a plan to move the museum off the fairgrounds within the next five years.

The State Fair Association owns the land where the museum is located, but a 1966 contract between the State Fair Association and the organization then known as the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society stated: “That the North Dakota State Fair Association will allow the Northwest North Dakota Historical Society to maintain and operate its building located on the fair grounds.” At the last State Fair Association meeting there was disagreement over the terms of that contract. State Fair Board members said the historical society had not asked permission to move new buildings onto the museum property, while the museum board members said several buildings have been moved onto the museum since the 1960s without objection from the State Fair Association.

State Fair Manager Renae Korslien said the fair board’s master plan includes a plan to eventually build a large convention center on the fairgrounds in the location where the exposition and dairy barns, Jaycees Building and 4H Building are currently situated. The fair board also wants to relocate the road that currently runs by the Pioneer Village Museum on the fairgrounds, which would require moving the museum off the fairgrounds, she said. Korslien said no firm plans have been made for the convention center and no cost estimates have been given, but the fair board wants to have the museum gone within five years. Korslien said a convention center would offer the potential for hosting more conventions and trade shows and expanding existing events such as the KMOT Ag Expo and the Norsk Hostfest. The fair board wants a firm commitment from the historical society to move the museum buildings off the fairgrounds so that the board can start making arrangements with contractors to develop the property for the convention center.

Breuer said the museum board is willing to explore options for relocating the pioneer village museum, but it could prove difficult because of the scarcity of land. Museum board treasurer Bruce Brooks said he has talked with Minot Park Board representatives and other groups in the community about land availability but no one has been able to give the museum board a definite answer because the city and county have not finalized flood control plans and likely will not do so for some time. Breuer said it’s unrealistic for the fair board to expect a firm commitment from the museum board by Sept. 1. He also feels the fair board’s requests have been vague. Breuer said his understanding was that fair board representatives would present a five-year removal proposal to the museum board. However, last week the museum board received a letter from the fair board’s lawyer stating that coming up with a five-year removal plan is the responsibility of the museum board.

Breuer and Brooks said the museum board also still wants to move the little red school house to the fairgrounds, but have not received permission to do so from the fair board. Breuer said the museum board has agreed to take responsibility for the cost of moving the little red school house if the museum itself is eventually forced to relocate. Brooks said Robert Sandstrom, the former owner of the school house, recently passed away and the Sandstrom estate will likely want the school house moved off the Lonetree property soon. The historical society currently owns the building and a foundation has been prepared on the museum grounds for the school house.

The Ward County Historical Society museum board voted this week to retain an attorney to represent them in their dealings with the North Dakota State Fair Association. Brooks said the board is seeking a lawyer who would be willing to work pro bono or at a reduced rate.

The issues will be addressed at the next meeting of the State Fair Association Board. Brooks said he hopes for a positive resolution to the problem and that the State Fair Association and the museum board can work together.