USS Kidd embarks on ‘war bond’ fundraising effort to keep WWII-era destroyer afloat in Baton Rouge _lowres

Advocate file photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- U.S.S. Kidd on the Mississippi River is pictured Friday, Apr. 10, 2015.

Struggling to stay afloat financially, the USS Kidd has embarked on a fundraising effort selling what officials describe as “unique war bonds” to the public.

The Louisiana Naval War Memorial, which includes the World War II-era destroyer ship USS Kidd, is at no risk of closing but needs money to address some overdue maintenance issues and to fund recently added programs that have increased foot traffic, Executive Director Alex Juan said.

The fundraising drive comes after the museum’s finances were questioned last year by auditors, who said it owed the state $334,000 for unpaid insurance premiums. The state Inspector General’s Office released an investigation last month that found the former executive director, Maury Drummond, misspent thousands of dollars in public funds on meals and travel.

Juan, who has been director since 2013, said she has only recently been able to turn her attention to fundraising, after a year of answering auditors’ questions and struggling to maintain the public’s trust — and donations.

“It’s a perfect time for all of this to come together,” Juan said. September will be the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

The commemorative “war bonds” — a nod to those sold in the 1940s to finance World War II — are on sale in the museum’s gift shop in denominations of $25, $50, $100 and $200.

“People can own a little bit of history and hopefully keep history alive,” Juan said.

She said it costs about $60,000 a month to operate the museum, which hosts lectures and other public events, plus programs including yoga and art therapy for veterans. The museum is a state agency, overseen by the Louisiana Naval War Memorial Commission, but functions as a nonprofit entity dependent on donations and proceeds from admissions and the gift shop.

Summer is always a slow season at the Kidd, Juan said, with many Baton Rouge visitors away on vacation. The hot weather deters other tourists.

Meanwhile, the museum faces an “urgent need for money,” Juan said. Funds designated for specific exhibits or projects cannot be used for any other purpose, sometimes leaving the Kidd stretched thin when it comes to operating costs and maintenance.

“That’s why this money is so critical, because that’s the pool of money we’re short on,” Juan said.

The museum’s 29-year-old building needs a new air conditioning unit and roof, Juan said, which together would cost at least $350,000. The air conditioner is “on its last leg,” and a thunderstorm in April damaged part of the roof, she said.

Smaller issues, such as replacing worn carpeting and repainting, also need attention, said Joe Jenkins, chairman of the Louisiana Naval War Memorial Commission. He said it’s important for the museum to look attractive because of the number of people it is able to reach, including 11,500 students annually on school trips.

Juan also has been adding innovative new programs, Jenkins said, but offering those programs costs money.

The Kidd’s fundraising is done in-house, although some supporters want to relaunch its foundation that fell apart amid leadership changes last summer, Juan said. The revamped foundation would focus on helping fund maintenance, with the 17-member commission that oversees the Kidd keeping a close watch on finances.

She said issues identified by the state Inspector General’s Office, including misspent funds and failure to inventory items, all have been rectified. The museum is once again open every day except holidays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. after closing to the public on Mondays last year so staff could complete an inventory.

For the past year, the Kidd also has been paying the state Office of Risk Management $5,000 a month for $334,000 in unpaid insurance premiums found in a state legislative audit released in 2014.

The fallout from the investigations has put a damper of fundraising. In the past, the Fourth of July holiday drew numerous donations, but some of those people did not give money this year because of the investigation’s findings, Juan said.

Still, the museum is in better shape financially this year than last, when its funding was at an all-time low and employees faced the possibility of being laid off, Juan said.

Jenkins, too, is optimistic about the Kidd’s future and the war bond fundraiser.

“I really feel under our leadership we’ll come out,” Jenkins said. “We’re just readjusting. ... It’s just a matter of feeling comfortable to come back to the Kidd and make a contribution.”