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Nonprofit withdraws offer to manage 'Survive' house

Lease negotiations in stalemate as group rejects latest proposal

March 16, 2006

Last week the Board of Directors of Hestia Institute Inc., a nonprofit group that runs Survive Alive House and University in Germantown, withdrew its offer to manage the two-story facility on Edison Drive.

A March 8 statement by Hestia Board member Terri Lodwick said: "The directors of Hestia, all of whom have been actively involved in the building of the house, believe that they can succeed with fundraising and promotion only if Hestia is sufficiently independent and insulated from the political process to give donors and staff the assurance that the Survive Alive House will be efficiently and prudently managed for the benefit of the broader community and that its continued existence will be assured."

The statement detailed a lease dispute between the Hestia board and the nine-member Germantown Village Board, noting "negotiations have become contentious and publicly demeaning to Hestia's volunteers."

Compromise to be rejected

Hestia was created several years ago as an independent organization to manage the house, considered a top-notch facility. Owned by the village of Germantown, it is a state-of-the art 3,400-square-foot building designed to simulate a residential fire.

Located on village land next to Fire Station No. 2 on Edison Drive, the house was built at a cost of about $500,000 -- including donated supplies and building materials -- over a five-year period. Hestia estimates the facility now has a value of more than $700,000.

The Village Board guaranteed a $200,000 loan for the house, although no tax dollars have yet been used in the house's construction or management.

Opened in summer 2004, the facility was funded mostly by the Germantown Fire Department and volunteers from the area and numerous benefactors.

On March 11, the Village Board offered a compromise -- a five-year lease with possible 25-year renewal after four years.

"Most of the board members wanted to see a track record, some history on them," explained Village President Charles Hargan. "They just didn't want to give carte blanche support."

Hargan said the offer would be made to Hestia, likely this week. "It's in their ballpark now," said Hargan in an interview on March 13.

Lodwick described her reaction to the proposal Monday as "one of extreme disappointment."

She predicted the compromise would be turned down by the full five-person Hestia board. "I don't think it's going any farther," she said.

No political ax to grind

Ralph J. Ehlinger, Hestia board member and an attorney with experience on nonprofit boards, said the group has developed a preliminary operating plan.

Ehlinger lives in the town of Richfield but has a law practice in Germantown. He said despite the stalemate Hestia is open to compromise.

"We're very reluctant to get involved in political warfare. We have no ax to grind other than a desire to do what the community wants and needs," he said in a March 10 interview. "But we're not going to force our way in if we're not wanted."

Until now, Hestia has paid the interest on the loan. That arrangement ended Feb. 23 when Hestia severed its legal and financial ties to the house.

The committee and Lodwick could not reach agreement. Lodwick said negotiations also fizzled at a March 3 meeting she attended at Village Hall with several trustees -- including Village President Charles Hargan -- and Village Attorney John DeStefanis.

Lodwick said the Germantown officials "dictated" unacceptable terms, namely requiring Hestia to keep its funds in a village account and submit monthly financial statements. Both provisions were incorporated into the Village Board's March 11 proposal.

Potential for programs

Village Trustee William Steitz said if a compromise is not reached the Park and Recreation Department and Germantown Fire Department could offer programs.

"If Hestia walks away from it, I don't think we'll have any choice but to go that direction," he said, noting he hopes the group decides to resume management of the house.

"But we will have 'survive alive' programs in that house, either through the GFD or thorough Park and Rec. Another scenario is we'll see if we can come up with another volunteer group to run it," Steitz said.

Village Trustee Al Vanderheiden was not as optimistic as Steitz.

"I don't see how the village could operate the house. We don't have the resources or the finances at this time to do it," he said on March 13.

"I don't think it's going any farther."

Terri Lodwick

Hestia Institute board member
on the village of Germantown's
latest proposal in lease negotiations for the Survive Alive House
and University

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