SYCAMORE – Visitors to the Midwest Museum of Natural History were met in recent days with a sign on the door that read “We are no longer open.”
Colleen Rittmeyer, a member of the museum’s board, said the decision was made at the board’s Feb. 21 meeting.
“It’s been a long time coming,” she said, noting that a number of factors led to the closing.
The board will meet again Friday to discuss how it will move forward with informing the community of the closing and next steps.
Megan Cervenka, of Sycamore, said she didn’t even know the museum closed. Cervenka owns M.C. Beauty, a shop in the strip mall next to the museum.
“It was a great thing to have in town,” she said. “It stinks that it closed because the schools won’t have that to go to. My kid won’t be able to go to it like I did.”
One of the main concerns for the museum now is finding homes for all of the exhibits. Rittmeyer said the museum needs to be particularly
careful because of several taxidermal endangered species in the collection. Several laws govern how those collections can be moved or disposed of.
She also said the board is reaching out to families who donated items in the museum’s collection to ensure they are satisfied with the placement.
Four staff members were laid off when the museum closed Feb. 22, she said.
Rittmeyer said the board needs to discuss many details about the closing, such as the fate of the assets for the museum.
According to the most recent available income tax forms filed by the museum with the Internal Revenue Service, and collected in the Nonprofit Explorer database by ProPublica, the museum spent $40,000 more than what it brought in for 2018, leaving it with a negative account.
Those records also show the museum had negative income every year since 2012.
The museum’s location, formerly a Universalist Church built in 1875, is owned by the Sycamore Park District.
Tim Keller, from Kramer’s Kitchen and Bath LLC, said he’d like to see the building return to being a church, and if not that, then he’d like to see it repurposed into a cultural center or a teen center.
“Something that could be used by the community at large and be used by everyone,” Keller said.
The museum opened in 2005 and featured exhibits in geology and anthropology, live animals and a mounted elephant.
Rittmeyer said she had been a frequent visitor to the museum with her children before she joined the board.
“It has a lot of emotional value for me as a community resource,” she said.
She said she thinks it will be a change for people in the community, especially those who saw it as a resource. According to the museum’s website, more than 1,500 students came through each year for field trips.
Rittmeyer said the board was grateful for all of the support the community showed the museum over the years.
Keller said that, although he didn’t go to the museum personally, it provided a benefit to the community.
“It’s unfortunate that the town is ultimately losing something that could be a draw for tourism,” Keller said.