SANDOWN — The future of the Sandown Depot Museum is in jeopardy.
Selectmen voted to send a letter to Sandown Historical Society president Bruce Robinson, asking him to agree with the terms of an occupancy agreement or risk being evicted from the town-owned building.
“All we want is a working agreement from them so that they don’t do anything without our authorization,” Selectman Hans Nicolaisen said. “It’s been blown out of proportion and now we’re where we are today.”
The depot has been owned by the town since 1978. In 1982, voters gave the historical society permission to occupy the building. The museum displays historical artifacts from the town and is registered with both the national and state registers of historic buildings.
“We are operating under the premise of that warrant article,” Robinson said. “We don’t have a lease agreement.”
According to the article, the historical society is responsible for operating expenses and continued renovations. But sometime in the last 30 years, the responsibility of the operating expenses shifted to the town.
Selectmen originally became concerned when they received the heating bill for the building last winter.
“It cost more to heat that than it did to heat Town Hall,” Selectmen Chairman Thomas Tombarello said.
Tombarello said selectmen and the historical society came to a verbal agreement for the historical society to be responsible for all operating expenses, including electricity. Selectmen then drafted an agreement which would have given the town final say over any structural changes to the building and only allow the building to be open between April and October.
But last week, Robinson sent the town back an altered agreement, which omitted the winterization requirement. He also added a line asking selectmen to inform the historical society if any changes were made to the building.
“If we’re going to heat the building now, I don’t understand why we can’t keep the building open whenever we want,” Robinson said.
Late last week, selectmen held an emergency meeting and voted to send a letter to Robinson which contained an ultimatum: Sign the selectmen-drafted agreement within 10 days, or give his keys to the building to the selectmen.
“I’m just done trying to work with (Robinson),” Nicolaisen said. “They drafted up their own agreements, which were nothing like ours. This was not the first time this has happened. We are the ones that take full responsibility, not the historical society. I’m so frustrated.”
The historical society is an organization which is independent from the town.
Selectmen hope that Robinson will sign the agreement, so that the museum will still be able to open during the summer.
“This is an important building,” Tombarello said. “If he doesn’t want to run it under our agreement, maybe we could find someone else that would.”
If not, selectmen have other ideas with how the building could be used.
“It would make a beautiful food pantry,” Tombarello said. “We’ve outgrown the small little food pantry that we have right now.”