With a huge smile, Mark Bawden announced Friday that he has raised the $3.65 million needed to retire the debt left over from building the Putnam Museum’s $14.5 million IMAX Theatre in 2002.

Eliminating the debt has been his primary goal for the past year, since he stepped up to be the museum’s interim director, filling a leadership void created when Chris Reich left as director in January 2006.

The IMAX has been making money for the 140-year-old museum, but the debt was dragging the Putnam down and hampering efforts to move forward, officials have said.

Now that the museum is debt-free and new full-time director Kim Findlay is on board, effective May 14, Bawden will continue as development director, a position that has been vacant since December 2005.

In that role, Bawden said he will immediately launch a five-year campaign to build an $8 million endowment to get the museum back on solid financial footing.

The Putnam has been struggling financially for some time.

For 10 years or more, the museum has had operating expenses that were greater than its funding resources, and it has paid its bills by spending down the principal of its endowment, a fund established to provide operating money only through its earnings.

The endowment is down to a dangerously low level and needs to be built up, Bawden said.

Bawden added that he will set up the fundraising framework and hire a professional fundraiser to help within the next year.

In raising the money to reduce the IMAX debt, Bawden said he was careful not to hit too hard on people and groups who will be asked to contribute to the endowment campaign as well.

He also said the museum “has a good story to tell” to potential donors who might want to know what the Putnam is doing to assure the endowment is not spent down again — a move that, in hindsight, looks irresponsible, Bawden said.

The museum’s debt has been eliminated, staff has been cut to a level that is more fiscally responsible, the management of the IMAX is at a sound level and “and we have cut the draw-down of the endowment to less than half in one year by responsible management,” he said.

For the 2006-07 fiscal year that ends April 30, the museum spent $350,000 from the endowment to meet expenses in its $2.6 million operating budget — less than half of what it spent the year before. It expects to spend $350,000 again during the 2007-08 fiscal year.

Money to reduce the IMAX debt came from several sources: $680,000 from the individual pockets of the museum’s 19-member board; $250,000 from the John Deere Foundation; $700,000 from the Bechtel Trust; $1 million from an anonymous donor; $920,000 from a variety of multiple donors; $25,000 each from The National Bank, Wells Fargo and US Bank; and $100,000 from the Roy J. Carver Trust.

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Those last four donations came within the past six days, Bawden said.

All told, the donations put the debt-reduction effort over its goal, leaving about $25,000 that will go into the endowment campaign, he added.

PUTNAM AT A GLANCE

What is now the Putnam Museum and IMAX Theatre was established in 1867 as the Davenport Academy of Natural Sciences, one of the first museums west of the Mississippi River.

It was renamed “Putnam” in recognition of the contributions from the Charles E. and Mary Louisa Duncan Putnam family of Davenport. It was their son, Joseph Duncan’s, interest in insects that launched the family’s early involvement in the academy on Brady Street, and they gave considerable financial support to the museum.

The museum opened at its current site at Division and West 12th streets in Davenport in 1964.

The museum is the primary repository for the area’s unique treasures, more than 170,000 artifacts and specimens that tell the stories of the region, the people who live here and their connections to the world.