NSS Headquarters Open Forum
Held in Ballroom 2, NSS Convention in Kerrville, Texas, on 7/21/09
The meeting started promptly at 4:00 PM by past NSS President Bill Tozer, who acted as the moderator. Bill began the meeting by providing the background for the forum idea that he and current President Gordon Birkhimer developed. The goal of the forum is to share in the exchange of ideas and to provide a method for members to speak about the NSS Headquarters issue. The format of the meeting would begin with the Operations Vice President (OVP) speaking regarding the current status of the NSS Huntsville Office, which has inadequate space to continue sufficient business operations. Next, each proposal would have five minutes to discuss the merits of their individual proposal. Then the floor would be open for members to talk about their concerns and to speak about what is good, bad, or indifferent about the proposals. The guidelines for public input should remain positive, but please do give concerns.
Operations Vice President Wm Shrewsbury spoke regarding the current status of the Current situation which has a lack of space at the NSS Huntsville Office, which is impeding current business operations. Wm described how the Office is tight on space:
Chuck Lundquist would like the NSS to stay in Huntsville, AL area. He recommends building at the current preserve location. The NSS owns essentially 1 city block there, and he suggests part of preserve over the cave and the part not over the cave be considered as the areas to be called "NSS Office." Chuck proposes a building of 175 x 80 or equal to 10,000 square feet with the number of restrooms not considered. They propose designing a 2 level building with a 2 story center hall with library, an outreach hall (80 x 80 sq feet), equipped with professional level, computers, and presentation equipment for visiting groups. They would like windows in the back overlooking Shelta Cave and the preserve. The construction would come in 2 phases, 1st- 2000 sq ft for storage and current office running space; 2nd phase archives; 3rd phase- museum: Huntsville has lots of museums, consider purchasing a building in the research park for the museum. If there is no money available at this time they can do a facelift of current buildings and have museum co-exist with another museum. Huntsville is very cosmopolitan city with 4 universities, the NASA Space Center, the symphony orchestra, and all kinds of cultural events. Southeastern Cave Conservatory Inc. (SCCi) is in the area.
Lee Florea with Western Kentucky University recommended the Mammoth Cave Area as an NSS Headquarters site. Lee represented the Horse Cave location and he had input with Dave Foster, Mark Joop, and others on the slideshow that he presented. A map in the slide presentation showed the weighted average of where caves are in the US, with the center of average is near Mammoth Cave National Park, Horse Cave KY, and the Cave Research Foundation Headquarters in Hamilton Valley, KY. Another map showed the location of grottos in and near the proposed site. There are lots of small and a few large member grottoes w/in 500 miles. There is an 8 acre view of the land leased by horse cave facility within downtown area. There are 4 current building in the north edge of the property. One of the buildings needs renovation, another which is the 5th building, has been recently renovated just needs tweaking for new tenant.
Don Paquette represented the proposal for the Bloomington, IN area. Don recommends building the new NSS Headquarters on the Richard Blenz property. What it would take to put a commercial building on the Blenz property. The property is about 50 miles south of Indianapolis and consists of 43 acres of Indiana karst including Buckner cave. There are 75 major caves in close proximity. There is a 2000 square foot house that Dick lives in and he can stay there as long as he so desires. Another entrance for Buckner's called Domicile Pit can be opened easily. The Richard Blenz Nature Conservancy consists of 2 parcels, please the check website for details. City water available and a water line is right at the edge of the property. No sewers will be available in the near future. The worst case scenario is a mound system septic field, and there is a possibility of converting a ravine to a septic system. The Internet is easily available. A rural street goes nearby Fire Department is close. Two colleges are close namely Indiana University and Ivy Tech Community College. The airport in Indianapolis is 52 miles away, and there is an airport in Louisville, KY. There are FedEx and UPS services near the property. There are good roads and Interstate highways and construction on I-69 has begun, which will be very close to the property when completed. Over the years there have been 3 NSS Conventions held in Indiana. The advantage of this property is the NSS already owns it. There is excellent caver and community support. This property has lots of room for expansion. The two problems that exist are the septic may not be cheap to build, and large tractor trailers may have difficulty negotiating the sharp turn on the road to the property.
Please go to the NSS Headquarters web site at the link below for the most current information:
Peri- follow-up: do some investigations might be available in the community. NSS Grant writers focus and skill set has been on.
1) Eric McMaster (MN) Wondered if funding of bonds from local communities would be available. NSS has several funds totaling about $150,000 available; but is there any local funding or bonds in each area? We don't know that yet. We can't obtain grants without a proposal. May need matching grants, Former NSS President Bill Tozer would not want to support increased dues to pay for this. Maybe ‘buy a brick'? Peri Frantz agreed to do follow-up work on this topic and she will do some investigation of what might be available in the community. Also will try to see if NSS Grant writers focus and skill set will help.
A) Chuck said he did not make any particular effort to obtain or look into funding at this time. Large corporations in the area may be possibilities; research corridor- maybe they will look for a tax write-off.
B) Dave Foster said he has local commissioners all on board for having NSS, thinks we can get community block grants; 1 private foundation has been approached. Lots of grant writers in the community. Property is across the street from 2 banks.
C) Don said he looked at the mechanics, but had not looked into financing at this time.
2) John Pearson (WV) Questioned why the NSS favored Huntsville? Dick Blenz donated land that belongs to NSS and would be a logical choice. Why did the NSS recently buy the small parcel in Huntsville when that gives the appearance that the NSS is unfairly favoring that location. Shrewsbury gave an update by explaining we had a few days to purchase the land before another corporation put a lien in the property. And, buying that recent property was like filling in holes in the surrounding area.
3) Gail Beach (CA) Asked why not split the functions of the office, for instance some archives to Horse Cave, KY and other items elsewhere.
4) Jeanne Gurnee (TN) stated she likes the Huntsville proposal because we already own it, and the older building can be a back-up building. The Huntsville proposal has letters of support from the community and the governor that welcomes the NSS and a commitment that would help expand the facility. She said we are a large society. There are people in that area to provide the services, and cavers that are willing volunteers. A continuing, dedicated, and knowledgeable staff is needed for the long-term.
5) Guy from the BOG said Logistics of having everything in one complex is easier and better financially too. Congress of Grottos asked for it to be in 1 place and accessible to the public.
6) Jim Leech (CAG AZ) asked if there was a direct cost comparison for doing different building designs and choices at the different area locations. Is the choice renting, buying, new construction, or remodeling?
7) Craig Hindman (Long Term Planning Committee) Reported that his committee didn't look into specific properties, but they did look at new construction as compared to remodeling an existing structure. They found that it is cheaper and more cost effective to Built rather than remodel or renting in warehouse areas. To rent space, Chattanooga is cheapest, with Huntsville and Bloomington same cost for new. Warehouse renting had disadvantage of paying taxes on property we don't own. Retrofitting warehouses, that were outright purchased, would put the cost back up there.
A) Chuck said Huntsville is a large community with many properties changing hands, especially with economic downturn
B) Lee proposed buying existing building with some amount of renovation, might be $2-300,000. Compare apples to apples and warehouse vs. a museum specifically built.
C) Don did not look into other sites because we have 43 acres to build upon, but he can look into the future .
8) Peri Frantz (NSS Secretary-Treasurer) Spoke regarding splitting things up. She noted in a 2005 a survey of members that were asked, "Should NSS office facilities be housed together?" In that survey the majority of members said keep everything together.
9) Ernst Kastning (NH) Commented that a Headquarters located elsewhere than Huntsville has been in his mind for years and we now have an opportunity to think outside the box. The NSS needs to have a presence where there are caves or woods with solitude in order to make an impact on caves and cavers. Ernst's made it known he has a large collection of books and if you ask where would he want them to be he leans towards the Mammoth cave area. He wants the NSS to remain autonomous though and not combine with or melt into another group. And he asked how would Bloomington or Huntsville selection influence cavers or caves?
10) Chuck Lundquist (Huntsville) at a joint NASA and university facility: they would like to add the extremophile capability to their body of work.
11) Doug Soroka (Greater Allentown Grotto) Asked where are nearest campgrounds or motels?
A) Chuck said Huntsville has lots of motels and campgrounds nearby.
B) Lee explained there are camping and motels nearby.
C) Don said cavers can camp right on the site, motels 6 miles away, Headquarters Complex should have sleeping available.
12) Anmar Mirza (IN) Feels Bloomington, IN is the best choice and should be promoted because of the proven labor pool and the proven track record of three very successful conventions.
13) Ellen Hofler (Flittermouse Grotto) Asked what does the NSS want for the future and what is our purpose? We should have a facility for educating the public and conservation. She pointed out a large Percentage of Americans have been to Mammoth Cave and it is a travel location every years for many people. She asked for a breakdown of the costs for each site including all aspects like utilities, housing, etc.
14) Robert Yuellig (Cincinnati Grotto) Felt the feelings of landowners and how the NSS will impact its neighbors in each area that is being considered is important and should be considered.
A) Chuck said no problem.
B) Lee pointed out the town of Horse Cave wants the NSS.
C) Don explained there will be minimal impact when things are being built because there is so much land and area to remain very private. There are only a few surrounding owners whose feelings range from "Just don't bother me, to great!" The main bordering owner is the Lumber Company and they say OK!
15) Robert (KY) Asked what is the definition of a location for these proposals. If we go to a depressed area because of cheap prices, we might be the only advocate for caves in the area. Urges an ad hoc committee be created to look into this.
16) Ray Keeler (AZ) Asked if the proposal writers update the web site when new information has been gathered. President Birkhimer replied he accepts all of the Headquarters related items and reviews them for acceptance and he forwards all materials for posting.
17) Cheryl Jones (VA) Stated the Huntsville Grotto does lots of stuff around the NSS office and there are many people to offer labor creating databases, painting, managing the property, etc. She asked will NSS still be planning on using the business model of volunteers. She asked how many NSS members live nearby 15 mile radius of any proposed site to help out when things break down or when help is needed with small projects in the NSS Office.
18) John Scheltens (SD) As an engineer, he has worked with cities and municipalities to build many things. As a past NSS President he remembers that we have talked about moving the NSS office for many, many, many years, and the topic is still going on. The NSS is an extremely educated membership organization. We are diverse, we appeal to a large group of people. Have we acted like a premiere organization of membership? Have we lost our dream? It is not just location, but where is the organization going? A decision needs to be made. Personal standpoint… we should talk and act like a professional organization [claps from audience]. We do need a professional library facility. Volunteers are great, but they have limits. We need a professional manager or executive director. Offshoots came about because there was a need and other groups were created to fulfill that need. He thinks we need a brand new facility. We do need acreage in a karst area to have room for all of this. A possible solution would professional guidance in the form of a foundation or ad hoc committee. This could be done in the same manner as the Foundation that was created to do NSS finance and relieve the BOG of the tedious details. This group could work arms length from the board. All members could place trust into that group to help make decisions to get this Headquarters done. The group could be handpicked people specializing in real estate, legal, architects, construction, grant writers, etc. People you trust to make good decisions.
19) Dave Irving (San Diego, CA) does not like everything in one place. He feels it will overload the volunteers. Dave thinks we should keep the NSS Office in the Huntsville area, where we currently are and volunteers are to help, with a museum in Mammoth Cave area, and the archives in Bloomington area.
20) What are the numbers of volunteers available to provide labor and assistance? The following Huntsville area has 88 members, Bloomington area has 70 members, and Mammoth Cave area has 18 members.
21) Bill Liebman (WV) Expressed a dissenting opinion on the selection of a Headquarters location. He wants to see a long term vision, and how much money we have to spend.
OVP Shrewsbury, email BOG@caves.org with more questions.
Chuck's final word: "If you want to fly to mars, Huntsville can do it."
Lee's final word: "NSS members can see the museum for free."
Don's final word: "Bloomington is a blank canvas, with area and room to put everything, and would be an excellent site for training."
Meeting ended around 5:45 PM with workers beginning to take down partition walls and prepare for the evening event.
President Birkhimer kept track of the attendance and Barbara Moss recorded the minutes of the meeting. It was difficult keeping track with people coming and going, but 93 different individuals were recorded as attending at least a portion of the meeting. A sign-in sheet recorded 71 attendees that signed the attendance sheets. Attendees included the 5 current Officers (and President Pro Tem) and 9 of the current Directors. 12 past Officers and Directors were also in attendance.