Back to The Future: Mound House Plans Ahead

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The Mound House celebrated its one-year anniversary of opening to the public with a planning seminar in Town Council Chambers on Monday, November 14, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Roughly 30 stakeholders took part, led by Lorna Kibbey of Leadership Solutions.

Council member Anita Cereceda set the tone by recalling that when the Town first incorporated in 1995, the late Ted Fitzsimons ran for Council under the motto “Preservation is Progress,” to preserve the Mound House and its 2.77 acres. “Nothing is truer than that,” she recalls, remembering then and today. “There is no project nor any group on the island who love something as much as people love the Mound House.”

Museum director Alison Giesen said a primary Mound House goal is to receive accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums, the gold standard in the profession based on Best Practices Standards. “It is tough for small and medium-size facilities to attain this,” Alison explains. “Everything we do works toward this, including our programming to better serve our community now and into the future. Accreditation is not only prestigious, but allows us to borrow collections from premier institutions and is essential in grant writing. It can take years to achieve.”

Small groups work on developing goals for the Mound House. Photos by Gary Mooney
Small groups work on developing goals for the Mound House. Photos by Gary Mooney

The stakeholders sat at round tables of roughly 6 participants each, and those clusters became breakout groups. “None of us is as smart as all of us together,” said Lorna. The groups analyzed the current Mission Statement: “to preserve and interpret 2000 years of cultural and natural history with residents and visitors worldwide,” with Lorna asking each person, “What is their main thing;” their primary Mound House priority? Words like preservation, conservation, education, finances, residents, visitors, history, enjoyment, protection, nature, and environment flowed in subsequent conversations, many bringing agreement and some conflict, indicating different constituencies.

The Big 6

This led to the groups writing their respective standards of success that they brought all together to form a narrative of six items: Attract, recruit, and retain qualified staff who manage by Best Practices Standards; provide quality tours, programs, and events that support the Mound House mission and encourage return visits; financial stability through Mound House income, Town funding, and outside revenue; quality docent training, feedback and recognition that encourages more visitor in-depth learning experiences; effective marketing and branding to bring visitors, volunteers and financial support; and our various stakeholders supporting and embracing the Mound House.

In analyzing how to attain these, participants listed Mound House strengths, threats, opportunities and challenges, with many items in more than one column, such as Town Council, neighbors, location and apathy. Giesen reported on current Mound House progress after one year: programming and general operations are in order, guaranteeing an excellent visitor experience, and it exceeded its budgetary expectations by 25%. It has 165 members, hosted over 6,000 visitors, and incorporated different programming every month to fully utilize the entire site.

The groups determined seven clusters that greatly affect the Mound House: Town Council, the Advisory Board, staff, volunteers, Friends of the Mound House, the community and various other stakeholders. In self-analyzing their respective roles, there may be overlapping responsibilities between members, Friends, and the Advisory Board. Council member Rexann Hosafros asked the assembly to consider adding Newton Park to one of these as a new charge to benefit the community, as it is no longer under Recreation but the Town’s historic umbrella.

The Final Report

Kibbey will assemble all the information into a final report she will present to Alison. The group will learn the results when they meet again in Council Chambers on Saturday, December 10, for a follow-up from 10 a.m. to Noon; if you were unable to come to the initial session, you are welcome to attend to provide your input at this time. Alison will then formulate a new strategic plan for the next 10 years.

Ceel Spuhler summed up the experience for many when she commented that “money is the whole thing behind the Mound House. If we do not have money to operate it, nothing else becomes viable.” Cereceda agreed, saying that the Mound House needs “a realistic budget because the current one cannot achieve all these goals.” Alison feels that museums can help with their own financial stability, especially with museum store profits and creative ways to generate revenue while serving their public.

The Mound House, Estero Island’s oldest standing structure, now owned by the Town of Fort Myers Beach and restored to its 1921 grandeur, opened to the public last November 14 as a cultural and environmental learning center. It is a unique historic and archeological attraction that sits atop an ancient Calusa Indian shell mound directly on Estero Bay that offers a variety of programs for residents, visitors and school groups.

The Town of Fort Myers Beach acquired the Mound House in 2000 to save it from demolition for prospective villas and condominiums. Today it is a walk through time where the Calusa first set foot. Improvements since the Town purchase include an Estero Bay kayak launch, Shell Mound Exhibit where visitors walk inside the Calusa Indian Mound, and landscaping signage to identify its distinctive flora and fauna.

Mound House admission is $10 for ages 13 & up, $8 for students with IDs, $5 ages 6 to 12, and 5 & under free. Fort Myers Beach residents receive a 50% discount with proof of residence, and access to the dog-friendly grounds is free. It is open May through December Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and January through April from Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Mound House is at 451 Connecticut Street, with additional parking at 216 Connecticut. For information call 239-765-0865 or see www.moundhouse.org.

On December 3, the Mound House hosts its annual Fundraising Luncheon, “A Taste of Christmas,” at the South Beach Grille at Santini Marina Plaza at Noon. There will be many exciting auction items, along with entertainment by Jo and Mark List to share the spirit of Christmas; call Ceel Spuhler for tickets at 239-765-6472.

 

Gary Mooney