SUNBURY — State Rep. Merle Phillips said Friday that he is moving to save the Joseph Priestley House from closure.

Phillips said he heard rumblings that the Northumberland museum could be the target of state budget cuts but was surprised to read about the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission’s recommendation to close the facility in Thursday’s Daily Item.

“They were supposed to call me first,” Phillips said.

Phillips said he and his staff will hold a meeting sometime in the next week or two to determine how to save the museum.

Plans are to include a representatives of state Sen. John Gordner, the Northumberland County Commissioners, the Northumberland County Historical Society, the Joseph Priestley House and Northumberland borough government.

“My concern is when it closes it may never reopen,” Phillips said. “When something closes it deteriorates and we’ve seen it with buildings whether it’s historical or not. We can’t let that happen.”

A Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission Sustainability Committee draft report has recommended closing the Priestley House “because of low visitation and limited potential for growth.”

Total visitation in fiscal year 2007-2008 was 1,705, with a paid visitation of 1,100, generating $4,125 in program revenue. There were 2,406 recreational and nonpaying visitors.

The total fiscal year 2006-2007 operating budget (the latest figure available) was $142,901, with the museum commission providing $136,001, including two full-time positions. Friends of the Joseph Priestley House kicked in $6,900.

“It’s not always about the money, though I understand the need for it,” Phillips said. “It’s how an individual feels about his heritage or the heritage of the area that determines how you feel about maintain the Priestley home or any of our historical sites.”

Over the years Phillips said he helped to secure two grants for the museum, one for a painting project and another for the construction of an auxiliary building.

“It’s something that people who have pride in their community care about,” Phillips said, “just like the Hunter Mansion, the Sodom Schoolhouse, the Warrior Run Church and the Cameron House. We want to keep them so that people can see what it was like years ago.”

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