Sadly the Chapel Hill Museum, housed in the Town’s old library building on Franklin street has announced it is closing its doors because the Town Council could not fully fund its request for this year. The museum has maintained the Town ‘s history for fifteen years, and sadly will no longer exist. How ironic and odd that the Chapel Hill museum resides in the same building our library once did before it moved to its current location. This year the council decided to spend 16 million dollars to expand THAT location, and decided to assume another one million dollars annually for IT’S operating costs. The library I must add was never at risk for closing its doors.
It’s hard for me to understand how the Town could not afford 50,000 dollars this year for the museum that maintains it’s history but could find 16 million dollars in construction costs and 1 million in annual operating costs for the library. Not a dime of the library construction cost and very little of the operating costs actually comes from tax payers outside of the Chapel hill town limits. PERHAPS THIS IS A CASE OF being financially penny wise and pound foolish.
I think the values we hold in Chapel Hill are reflected not just in our desire for excellence in education and library services, but are reflected in our appreciation of our history as a town as well and our willingness to pay for all of those things. I am sorry that the museum that housed our history did not have priority this year and hope the Council will be consistent in their funding sustainability and equity expectations for the library.
I am willing to work very hard with our museum as it exists to perhaps keep them open or delay this closure. I attended a meeting with the Museum Board last night (June 22) and they are requesting a meeting with Roger Stancil and Mark Kleinschmidt to explain their predicament and help everyone understand how they HAVE provided performance criteria and financials and that they are a viable institution that had every intention of remaining solvent, with a little help from the Town. They aren’t an “unaffiliated nonprofit” and consider themselves the keepers of the only history the Town has. They are also having a hard time understanding how they will tell thousands of school children they cannot attend programs there as a part of their curriculum. They intend to state that they had every impression and every intention of one day being “absorbed” by the Town and had worked in recent years towards that goal. It was their most recent petition asking a nominal amount for the next year that was a “first step” .
The press is invited to that particular meeting as far as the museum is concerned. I have contacted Roger Stancil and have asked him to coordinate a meeting with everyone within the next two weeks. Hopefully a meeting will be a good airing out and a discussion of where everyone is, and maybe, just maybe there is a small pinpoint of a light at the end of the tunnel that suggests that the council revisit their request in the fall….if it isn’t too late. I hope it isn’t too late. I will post an update on when that meeting will be.
UPDATE June 24: I received a call from Stephen Rich from the Museum Board inquiring as to a meeting with Roger and Mayor Kleinschmidt. I let him know that Roger was informed and that he was coordinating a meeting with the mayor, but both of them were out of town currently. Mr. Rich said that despite the article in today’s N&O, there was no hope in keeping the museum doors opened and the meeting to occur was merely to know about next steps on transitioning out of the building and figuring out what to do with some of the programs for the kids; also to inform the Mayor and others that the museum was led to believe for some time that they would in fact be absorbed by the Town and they feel completely let down (quite the understatement). I asked him wasn’t there a there a glimmer of hope if they could just wait until September, and he said based on the letter that Roger wrote Mr. Boulton, they had no idea what the Town’s intentions were, the amount of money the Town allocated was not their request and was not enough, and they could not continue to operate in this manner (Roger indicated that one of the results of the September lease re-negotiation meeting could be the Town would completely take over the building).
I completely understand! and would feel the same way. I am not sure that this part of the letter reflects the spirit of the council’s budget discussion nor its intent in wanting to keep the museum open (majority of council) , however one could argue that if the lease was not acceptable to both parties in September that the result could be the Town indeed taking over the building. I would NOT have been a council member supporting that position, and I’m sure that there are other council members who probably feel the same way (at least Matt C for sure).
Again, when I hear back from Roger about when the meeting is scheduled, I will let everyone know.
UPDATE ON JUNE 27
The meeting between the Town staff and Mayor and Museum Board will occur on Wednesday, July 21 from 9-10 a.m. at Town Hall, presumably in the Mayor’s office. (This works for mayor, Roger, museum, unfortunately for me though that is my day I work in Raleigh all day so I am hoping that another museum supporter council member like Matt C will attend this meeting, but also hope some of the council members who do not support the museum would attend too to learn more about the museum and the reason it says it needs to close). I still have a glimmer of hope within me that maybe we could work something out with the museum but maybe it’s false hope.