With the future of the Aberdeen Museum of History still in question three years after the armory fire displaced the collection, the Friends of the Aberdeen Museum are holding a public open house to discuss it and has asked members of the city’s museum board to attend in an unofficial capacity.
The meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 16 in the Old Aberdeen Theatre at 111 Wishkah St. in Aberdeen. The public is welcome and encouraged to attend to be part of the discussion of the museum’s future.
Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave has been working on an agreement with the Friends to enlist their help with the museum collection, while the city’s museum board continues to work toward managing the collection and identify potential museum sites.
Schave has told the board a museum building is not a priority for the city at this time, as the armory fire insurance money has either been spent or earmarked for other projects like the Gateway Center and North Shore Levee. Less than $4 million of the $22 million armory building settlement remains unspoken for.
At Tuesday’s city museum board meeting, chairman John Shaw said he had met with the Friends and “had a very good discussion about where the board is on being able to work with the Friends, but also a bit of discussion about staying in our lanes.”
The Friends are a volunteer organization; the city museum board was created by the city and operates under specific guidelines within the city code.
Shaw encouraged members of the board to attend the Sept. 16 public Friends meeting as long as it was outside of their official capacity of members of the board. The Friends sent a letter to the city museum board inviting them to the meeting that said, in part, “We understand that you may not attend in your capacity as a city representative, but encourage you to come as a private citizen. We welcome your insights on ways to find a new home for the Aberdeen Museum.”
The invite continued, “Our city and its residents will benefit from a new location to showcase the treasured artifacts of Aberdeen’s past for generations to come. We want to partner with you in this endeavor to the benefit of our entire community.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, museum board vice chairman George Donovan said a recent, long-awaited visit from representatives of the Washington State Historical Society will help with the management of the collection.
Margaret Wetherbee, the society’s head of collections, and society heritage outreach manager Allison Campbell met at the collection storage unit in the Port Industrial Road area “for several hours, while they viewed our collection,” said Donovan. “And they are going to be presenting us a report that we’ve been waiting for for quite some time.”
Their report will guide the city museum board’s overall museum plan.
“We are very much looking forward to the Friends working with us once this plan is presented to us,” he said. Recent requests by the Friends to view the collection and the database were rebuffed because, said Donovan, they would be premature before the society’s report is in hand and the board’s own plan is in place.
There was little discussion about possible locations for a new museum at Tuesday’s board meeting, with no funds available to seriously consider a location at this time. Board member Randy Beerbower had asked at a previous meeting to get the total square footage used by the museum when it was in the armory building, and was given an estimated total square footage of around 20,000, but what replacement cost on that footage was not known.
“I have not been able to come up with a number that I could say is solid, so I’m still working on that part,” said site committee chair Mike Schmidt.
It was asked earlier in the meeting if any of the $1 million settlement that was specifically for the museum collection and is in the city museum fund could be used for construction of or purchase of an existing space for a new museum.
Shaw said there was some gray area, but it was his understanding after discussions with museum development experts that, while it can be used to pay the nearly $5,000 a month rent on the current collection storage warehouse, it could not be used to purchase a display site.
Plans are still being discussed for a workshop with the board and Aberdeen City Council, but nothing has been set since the possibility was brought up several months ago.
Stacie Barnum, Aberdeen’s Parks Director and city liaison to the museum board, said she has put language in the city’s near complete capital facilities plan considering space for the museum. That plan is still under construction, but when approved is a blueprint for the city’s financial facilities priorities for the coming years.
During board member comments, Jamie Brand renewed the board’s wish for a paid collection registrar. That position was approved by the City Council, but Schave thus far has refused to fill it. Schave attended the Zoom board meeting, but did not comment at the end of the meeting.
The board seemed to think it was heading in the right direction when it came to the collection and that an amicable working relationship can be established with the Friends, “But we have a few more steps to take to do it properly,” said Shaw. “We really want to have a well-founded plan that has oversight and the ability to basically head toward this goal of becoming an accredited museum in the future.”