Aberdeen’s museum board chairman steps down

Les Bolton has announced his resignation after one year as chairman of Aberdeen’s Board of Museum and History.

The city-run group was tasked with creating a new museum in the wake of the June 2018 fire that destroyed the Armory Building.

Bolton, who previously served as executive director of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport, said the museum job didn’t mesh with his more hands-on approach to planning.

“The museum board is responsible for the collection, but it’s a policy board; it’s not about being hands-on, ‘How are we going to do this?’” said Bolton. “If it’s going to be a municipal museum, and the staff are city employees, that mystery of how to make it work is solved.”

Bolton, who’s semi-retired, said he’s been investing more time recently with helping expand the Coastal Interpretive Center in Ocean Shores, and said he will continue serving on the Friends of the Museum board — the nonprofit that previously operated the museum, but now acts more as a fundraising group.

Those interested in applying to become chair of the Board of Museum and History can send letters of interest to Mayor Erik Larson at mayor@aberdeenwa.gov.

After fire destroyed the original Aberdeen Museum of History, Larson decided to get the city more heavily involved in supervising the creation of a new museum. To do this, he restaffed the city-run museum board, which had been inactive for years.

The board meets the first Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. at Aberdeen City Hall. It has taken some steps like identifying the old Boeing Building, near downtown next to the Chehalis River overpass, as a possible place to open a new museum. But some board members have voiced frustration over being unable to decide much of the museum’s future until they know the full insurance payout for the Armory Building and the damaged museum collection.

Figuring out the insurance payout has been a slow process, but Parks Director Stacie Barnum, who’s been handling the Armory fire recovery, said the city would likely know the full claim by the end of September.

Although the board gets to recommend what a new museum should look like, the decisions are ultimately in the hands of the city officials and the City Council, which gets the final say on recommendations for the museum.

In terms of current plans, the city-run board has been working on a peer review to check if the museum’s previous policies match with the professional standards of modern museums. The board’s vice chairman, John Shaw, said the goal is to get the museum officially accredited as part of the American Alliance of Museums.

“To be accredited facility, it really opens up your ability to receive funding and grants from some larger sources,” said Shaw, who added they have also contacted the Washington State Archives and State Historical Society to help with the peer review.

Other than the peer study, the museum board is still waiting for the city to contract with an outside provider to do a feasibility study on the old Boeing Building as a possible new museum location. Barnum said the Request For Qualifications have been sent out, and responses are due back by Aug. 23.

While city officials try to find a permanent storage site for the museum, the collection of artifacts is currently being held in several locations: the Armory Annex building, a warehouse for the Restoration Management Company in Kent, the State Archives and a new location the city is leasing at 2100 Port Industrial Road.