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Ripon museum closer to relocating downtown
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RIPON – The Clarence Smit Museum, which has long been too small for the Ripon Historical Society to display all of their precious community artifacts, is about to get the space that they’ve always wanted.

The Ripon City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night to allow the museum to relocate to the old Ripon Library building downtown that has been vacant for almost three years after the library relocated down the street to the newly renovated Ripon Memorial Library.

But it wasn’t exactly an easy sell for some of the members of the council to sign off on the concept, especially when the original plans called for a split-use of the building between the museum and the Ripon Chamber of Commerce.

While the museum – which boasts a beautiful facility in Stouffer Park with breathtaking views of the Stanislaus River – is safe in their current location for as long as they want to stay there, the Bank of Stockton-owned building that the Chamber is currently occupying is up for sale and a transaction could force them out with only a month to find a new home.

While current Chamber President Red Nutt agreed that the museum needed a place to expand, fellow Chamber Director Dean Uecker was adamant about making sure that those who were gung-ho about moving the museum immediately at least realize that there were preliminary plans in place to allow the chamber to have space in the building to conduct their daily business.

Things got quite heated when the lines appeared clearly drawn on which side of the fence the members of the council were falling on.

“I just think that this seems like a railroad job,” Uecker said during a 30-minute discussion that continued even after a motion and a second had been made to approve the museum relocation.

The comment drew the ire of Councilman Charlie Gay, a strong proponent of moving the museum downtown to allow for better access, who began to loudly question what was being railroaded in the situation that had drawn a fair amount of community support.

Councilman Garry Krebbs solidified his position early.

“A function of the city is to preserve the heritage of the city and its people,” Krebbs said. “A function of the city should be to have a good museum to preserve our local history, and the one that they’re operating with now just isn’t adequate.”

It was Nutt who pointed out that there was some confusion about who actually owned the building that housed the library when it was vacated, and that it took several months to sort out before the sole possession ended up in the hands of the City of Ripon.

Because of a stipulation that requires the building to be used for a city function, Mayor Chuck Winn said that the city would likely be the one in charge of making the improvements and upgrades that would allow either the museum or the chamber to locate within the complex.

City Administrator Leon Compton told the council that the only available funding for that would come from either the general fund – which is currently in the red and couldn’t be used for this purpose – or from redevelopment funds that are also facing a hit from the State of California as the budget balancing act continues in Sacramento.

An amended motion that will include authorizing a council-formed commission to look into the possibility of relocating the Chamber of Commerce to a building downtown was good enough to satisfy the remaining members of the council who eventually locked in a unanimous 5-0 vote.

The chamber report will be back before the council at their next meeting later this month.