Seeking to reinvent itself and bring in additional funding after years of financial worries, the USS Kidd is now pushing to become an educational center for visitors while offering more programs to support military veterans.
On Saturday, the USS Kidd Veterans Memorial and Museum — which includes the World War II-era destroyer ship — officially reopened after a three-week renovation project that updated aging carpet, paint and exhibits. Ship models on the second floor of the building have been reorganized, creating more open space for the museum to host programs for veterans, such as yoga classes.
The three new exhibits include a map showing all the places the Kidd traveled to, a World War I uniform and a collection of military knives. Those are in addition to a variety of other military-related items collected over the years.
“No one else has something like that around here, and it’s great for what we’re trying to do in our education program,” said Alejandra “Alex” Juan, executive director of the museum.
The modest updates unveiled on Saturday — which cost about $25,000 and were mostly completed by museum staff — are only one piece of an ongoing effort to rebuild the Kidd’s image and finances.
In 2014, auditors found the museum, which is overseen by a state commission, owed the Office of Risk Management more than $300,000 in unpaid insurance premiums — money that the Kidd is now paying back $5,000 at a time. And in 2015, the state Inspector General’s Office reported that Maury Drummond, the former executive director, had misspent thousands of public dollars on meals and travel and failed to complete inventories.
After Juan came to the helm in 2013, she spent much of her time addressing issues identified by auditors while facing an all-time low for fundraising. Meanwhile, overdue building maintenance issues became a growing concern, and there were no funds to fix them.The museum’s annual budget has run between $700,000 and $800,000 in the past few years and is made up entirely of private funds — mostly ticket sales and fees for its overnight camping program — despite being a state agency, said Henson Moore, a former congressman who is chairman of the Louisiana Naval War Memorial Commission.
Fundraising and foot traffic have both picked up in the past year, Juan said, reaching a record high of 86,000 visitors in 2015. But the Kidd still does not have enough operating funds to replace the building’s air conditioner, which is 30 years old and “on its last legs,” and the roof, which was damaged in an April thunderstorm, she said. The windows also need resealing to stop moisture from coming in.
“What we need is critical dollars right now to address things we’ve been talking about forever … things that could stop our operation if we don’t address them,” Juan said, adding that delicate items on display could be at risk if the air conditioner quits working in the hot summer months.
She said she hopes to replace the air conditioner and repaint the hull of the USS Kidd ship this year.
The museum is hosting more events to “help raise bits of money” and encourage people to donate in-kind services, Juan said. She also has launched new education-focused efforts, including an online portal of lesson plans and other resources for teachers.
“Having all those extra people has definitely helped get us more attention and get more funding sources,” she said. “As people get to know all of the different programming and know the work we’ve been doing internally to get all this cleaned up, they’re more open to donating.”
The commission is also now exploring if it could save money by becoming an entirely private organization instead of operating under the public-private structure in place since forming in the 1980s, Moore said. Confusion about which state rules the museum must comply with, along with the “sloppy bookkeeping” it perhaps encouraged, explains many of the problems involving Drummond that auditors found, he said.Those issues have all been rectified now, though, and Moore said he is optimistic about the museum’s future under Juan, whom he credits with bringing in new energy amid financially “rough seas.”
“We’ve been sort of dead in the water, and we’re cranking the engines up,” he said.