The future of a pair of Harlan County attractions is unknown as Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC) has informed the county they will no longer be running the Benham Schoolhouse Inn and Portal 31 after June 30.
According to a press release, SKCTC President Dr. Lynn Moore recently sent a letter to Harlan County Judge-Executive Dan Mosley about the future of the two attractions. Both entities, while owned by the county, are currently being financially supported, staffed and managed by the college. Moore said in her letter to Mosley that due to decreasing financial support from the state of Kentucky along with shrinking college resources, the college is unable to continue to support and staff both venues.
“For the last three years, we have been subsidizing the cost of operating these facilities with student tuition and college state appropriations revenues,” Moore said.
The release additionally states the letter also served as written notice to the fiscal court that Southeast will end their management of the Inn and the Portal on June 30, turning the responsibility back over to the county.
“It is my sincere hope that Judge Mosley and the Harlan County Fiscal Court will be able to secure the financial resources, or come to an agreement with another entity, in order to keep both of these historically, culturally and emotionally valuable facilities open and operating,” said Moore.
Mosley said he first spoke with Moore about the situation back in November.
“She informed me at that time she had received a letter…notifying her she was going to have to cut her budget approximately $800,000,” Mosley said. “She felt as if she was going to have to make significant cuts throughout the SKCTC structure, and that the Benham Inn and Portal 31 were things she was going to have to discard.”
Mosley said the college’s initial intent was to cease operating the facilities on Dec. 31.
“We talked with her (Moore) and pleaded with her to not do that right in the middle of our budget,” Mosley explained. “It would have been nearly impossible to figure out any solution for any entity to take over operations right in the middle of the fiscal year. She agreed to keep it going and has been in discussion with our legislators about appropriating some funding to continue to support it.”
Mosley said he received the letter this week stating SKCTC intends to cease managing the facilities as of June 30.
“I have received a lot of phone calls, messages, emails and letters from people in the Tri-City area…asking for the fiscal court to figure out a way to keep these establishments open,” Mosley said. “I appreciate people reaching out and showing support for these two very important attractions. We do have this on the agenda to discuss at our fiscal court meeting on Tuesday.”
Mosley said both attractions are an important part of Harlan County tourism.
“I am attempting to come up with a plan to keep those facilities open,” Mosley said. “Fortunately, we have a little bit of time to figure out a way to do so.”
Moore said she will continue to work with the county to help with the transition by the June 30 deadline, according to the press release.
“Those entities mean a lot to me personally,” Mosley added. “I feel like Portal 31 is a unique thing we have in Harlan County that tells the story of coal. It tells the story of our history. It tells the story of what coal miners go through. That is something we need to preserve.”
Reach Joe P. Asher at 606-909-4132 or on Twitter @joe_hde