By Lois De Heer
(This letter was sent to the Waitsfield Select Board and town administrator.)
The Waitsfield Historical Society is very proud to have been a part of the purchase of the General Wait House. What better place for us to have our home and museum than the most historical building in Waitsfield.
It is the best place to display and store the historical Waitsfield artifacts that have come to us through the years. Due to our investment in the property, it has been our interest and concern to report to the town, the owners of the property, if we noticed any needs of attention.
Not until 2020, was it made known to everyone, that deferred maintenance was in the amount of $91,500, as per the report from Brad Cook. Sadly, this was due to an annual fund never set aside by the town to care for the building they had purchased. With the townspeople approving the purchase, (being homeowners themselves), they would have expected an annual fund set aside for any expenses down the road.
It is truly a shame, that 25 years later this deferred maintenance report is thrown in your laps. It was also made public that monthly expenses to run the Wait House have not been covered by the tenant rents for some years. Through the past 25 years, if there had been regular increases in rents to help keep up with the increase in monthly cost, this situation would not exist.
As far as rent, you are considering charging the historical society for their space, it is written by the town administrator, at the time offices were being filled in 1997 that our space was being “donated” to us. (Fred Messer has a copy of that and the second floor space consists of 325 square feet.)
Obviously, due to us being a part of the planning and purchase of the property. We were included in every phase, even from before the purchase, including paying for holding on to the property so it wouldn’t get sold or rented while waiting for grant money to come through.
You can check other towns in Vermont to realize where historical societies are housed in town-owned historic buildings and are not expected to pay rent. One for instance is Northfield Historical Society. They have the whole Governor Payne House, two floors for offices, work space, museum and storage and are open only one day a week to the public and by appointment. Also, Warren had the historic Blair Barn donated to them.
Our historical society doesn’t receive any funding from the town as the Wait House tenants organizations do, nor do we get a salary. We are strictly a volunteer organization. Our membership money goes to office expense and to pay for any programs we present. We do not charge for any programs as seems to be the norm for historical societies, like the Mad River Path Association doesn’t charge people to use the town paths/trails.
Our purpose is to collect, preserve and exhibit artifacts, manuscripts, photographs, documents and other material relating to the history of Waitsfield, for future generations, which each town’s historical society offers and all by volunteers. We are visited by many people which also brings revenue into the town/Valley.
We are the recipients and caretakers of donated archival articles belonging to former residents and log and store them. The main floor space that the select board of 2017 offered to us when they knew the chamber of commerce was going to move, did not come with a rent cost as we were told by the administrator. The space we had on the second floor was very close in size to the main floor space (main floor 382 square feet).
The chamber had two and three people in the space, had as many computers, telephones, use of housekeeping, the meeting room and a copy machine all the tenants made use of. They were supposed to be there five days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which must have been figured into their rent. We do our own housekeeping, even in the museum. We make use of the meeting room five times a year unless we get a visitor that needs research help.
Since we made the carriage barn useful for programs and meetings, weather permitting, we would have our meeting there. We cleaned and painted the first-floor space before moving in at our expense. We advertise being open to the public one day a week and by appointment. Other than that, it is by chance one of us is working on logging artifacts. Whenever we are in our office, the museum room door is open for all.
We are just upset whenever we arrive, any day of the week, and find that door open, unlocked or ajar. Everything in that museum is irreplaceable. Perhaps the hidden key is the cause of that, as many use it for gathering in the meeting room, other than tenants.
We understand you have not made any decisions in reference to the Wait House Task Force Committee as of yet, but we are very concerned about us not being able to have the use of the carriage barn after we worked on it for years and invested nearly $11,000 to clean it up to make it a place to have a community program or a meeting.
Everything in there belongs to the historical society. We were the overseers and managed the calendar for usage. It was one less thing you had to deal with. Of course, we would be reporting to you if a program were planned by any nonprofit organization.
Please reconsider, at least until you come up with someone to manage the property.
Lois De Heer for the Waitsfield Historical Society Board members.
Lois De Heer is president of the Waitsfield Historical Society board of directors.