Medicine Park museum project draws Oklahoma state auditor's attention

A former board member-turned-critic of the Medicine Park Aquarium and Natural Sciences Center said Medicine Park, the southwest Oklahoma town, duped donors into giving hundreds of thousands of dollars for a museum that may never open.
BY ZEKE CAMPFIELD zcampfield@opubco.com Published: March 12, 2013
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Kemper said money granted to the authority remains in a designated bank account and could be returned today if asked, but said the group was already thoroughly vetted by its granters after Meese sent them letters last fall.

David Porch, chairman of the McMahan Foundation, which gave the museum $300,000, said he only released the money after reviewing the project and project plans.

And Don Hawthorne, the Comanche County commissioner who presides over the Medicine Park area, said he too felt good about an additional $300,000 performance loan awarded the town.

“We got concerned as everybody else did … and then they looked at it, McMahan looked at it,” Hawthorne said. “As far as I'm concerned now everybody is satisfied with it.”

Kemper said museum planners have spent only about $150,000 since the project was hatched three years ago. He said that money has been spent to get level parking areas at the museum site alongside State Highway 49 and that utilities are being installed now.

Kemper is paid about $24,000 annually and is provided an office space with an attached efficiency apartment where he lives. He said he expects the first phase of the project — an aquarium — will be open by this winter, with a botanical garden blooming for the first time next spring.

A zoological park with exhibits, buildings and a grand exhibit hall will come after that, he said.

But Nesiba said she and others will believe it when they see it.

For one, she said, the city agreed to return the $300,000 to Comanche County if the museum didn't have at least $3.6 million in the bank by July. And with only $1.5 million raised in three years she said she can't imagine how the museum could be completed.

“You don't take half a million dollars and build a $30 million entity, with building and construction and everything they've got to do, and then have several million dollars a year to operate this thing year after year,” she said. “They have none of that.”


What's next?

Trey Davis, spokesman for the state auditor's office, said an auditor will likely begin looking into the Medicine Park museum project in June.

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