From the President
By: Robert Remer
…And Now For the Next 25 Years - Part I: The Museum
Last issue we said goodbye to our 25th year. We celebrated the success of our gala, settled in for a winter worthy of hibernation, and now we’ve returned, charting the next 25 years of your historical society.
Thanks to your support, we ended last year with a modest surplus; and we can dutifully let you know that the finances are in pretty good shape for now. Over the years we steadily built a responsible surplus. Over the coming months the Board will examine how to situate EHS for a sustainable future. We will keep you informed, welcoming your suggestions.
In this message, I’ll write about the museum building itself and some of the related “sustainability” issues.
You may remember our good friend, founding member Everett Stetson, left us a generous bequest that became the museum building endowment fund when opened only 10½ years ago; the board put restrictions that the inflation adjusted balance of that fund could not be spent (without a board super majority); any excess income or growth could be used for repairs or major work on the building. Since Everett was so very generous to our original building fund, it only seemed appropriate to safeguard that investment by treating his bequest as an endowment for the building he did so much to see built (and for whom we gratefully named our exhibit hall). Although the firehouse cost only $3000, over $300,000 was spent to rehab/convert the building to a museum – all without any mortgage or debt. Your board wanted to secure your museum for future generations – sustainability at its best.
That original Stetson Trust was around $177,000; with responsible investing it grew and kept up with inflation, until the recession. Unfortunately, the value of the trust dipped below the inflation adjusted principal. The last two years, however, saw a healthy rebound; the value of the trust now approaches $309,000 above the threshold for using the funds. That is timely, because the building, while in great condition, has aged 10 years; we have incurred over $100,000 in wear and tear (depreciation) which we need to address, as the Building Committee prepares a capital plan for ongoing preventive maintenance to keep it in great shape.
That being said, we are victims of our own success as our space needs exceed our available space.
Our great exhibits over the decade demonstrate that many could merit their own permanent exhibit hall about the history of Edgewater, but we have only one exhibit space that must accommodate permanent and changing exhibit cases and topics. Unfortunately, most of Edgewater did not get the opportunity to see those exhibits before they were packed up. Likewise, we do not have dedicated “behind the scenes” space for exhibit preparation and past exhibit materials. Nevertheless, we are using the website more and more to bring you some history of “virtual” past exhibits. I may be old fashioned, but I still like to see exhibits in person.
The increasing density of our exhibits also reduces available space for programs, while audiences have grown. We now have more of our programs at other venues like the new Edgewater Library, the Broadway Armory and local churches. That is a good thing, because our programs are reaching a wider base, but it informs the dilemma of limited space at the museum.
When we opened the museum, Edgewater opened its hearts, basements and attics, donating a lot of material for our archives. The tide continued unabated; in just this last year alone, we received scores of boxes and file cabinets for three major collections from Edgewater organizations. Most of the second floor of the museum is devoted to the storage and processing of that collection of thousands of items (from block club fliers, church histories, clothing, props, photographs, post cards, books, old newspapers, maps, a very fine collection of Edgewater Beach Hotel memorabilia, numerous historic objects, etc). Not everything can be catalogued, as that would be impractical, yet it is instructive to note that we already have almost 5,000 items in our catalog database. This preservation mission is very much “behind the scenes,” stored in acid free boxes and folders, with controlled temperatures, shielded from sunlight. All of which takes space. We try our best to find more efficient ways to squeeze extra room to store things, but in the end we know we will need to expand, whether through offsite storage, an addition, or even an added facility in the future.
Next issue, I’ll bring you up to date on some operational issues we will face looking to the future. To maintain this space with exhibits, programs and collection preservation/processing we rely on volunteers and the funds we receive from you, the Edgewater community. Besides the building, we have many other expenses. Over the past 25 years we have been very frugal; since the museum opened, we operate everything on basically about $30-35,000 per year. “The best bargain in Edgewater,” I often say. As we get better at what we do, and do more of the same, our costs are increasing and the board will be looking at ways to become operationally sustainable.
Preserving Edgewater’s history means we need to chart a way to preserve EHS.