Sandown Selectmen Continue Discussion of Depot Museum

SANDOWN – Selectmen aren’t unanimous on the need for a lease style agreement between the town and the historical society over use of the Train Depot Museum. A sample lease was brought before the board at its Sept. 23 meeting, and while some members said that with a couple of minor changes the agreement would work well, others thought the whole idea was off track.

The town owns the building off Main Street and 10 feet around the outside, but the historical society operates it as its museum. The building is in need of some repairs, and when selectmen learned that some of the repairs proposed and changes made to the building by the society could result in its ouster from the National and State Historic Registers, some members saw the need to clearly outline rights and responsibilities between the parties.
The idea of an agreement was initially presented to the board by an outside historic preservation consultant brought in to help the town figure out what the building needed This consultant said many towns have such agreements.
Since then the selectmen’s office staff has been working to find samples for the selectmen to review. Office assistant Paula Gulla has been spearheading the investigative work into the building and its needs, and on Monday presented what she called a boilerplate lease agreement for review.
Gulla was clear that what she presented was very much a draft and would need selectmen’s input to take shape for Sandown.
Chair Tom Tombarello said his main concern with the document was that it not appear overbearing to the historical society but he didn’t see that in the draft. Tombarello noted that he didn’t want it to seem as if the selectmen were working against the society, but rather were looking to protect everyone’s interests.
Tombarello noted his concern with the conditions of the lease termination and how it allowed the selectmen to terminate the agreement whenever they wanted. He felt that condition was too harsh for those volunteering their time for the society and its museum.
Selectman Brenda Copp said the agreement was for both the protection of the town and the society.
“As a selectman I feel it’s my duty to protect what the town owns,” said Copp, adding that her main concern is to make sure the depot is not kicked off the historic registers.
Selectman Terry Treanor echoed Copp’s statements. Treanor questioned who would be responsible in the case of a fire or damage to the items in the building, implying that the specifics of the arrangement between the two groups needed to be clear.
Selectman Hans Nicolaisen said that while he agreed with portions of the lease, he thinks things could be done more simply. Nicolaisen said the society has been accommodating to selectmen’s wishes, and surmised that a less formal arrangement might be better. Nicolaisen added that such an agreement could alienate the volunteers with the society.
Selectman Jim Devine echoed Nicolaisen’s statements.
“They’re just volunteers,” said Devine. “We’re trying to put something on them that a handshake would do.”
There was some discussion about the wisdom of singling out the society, as there were other town-owned buildings that were utilized by outside groups. Copp argued that those other buildings and groups haven’t caused the same issues as the depot and the society have caused.
Copp noted that the only similar building was the Old Meetinghouse, but suspected that the Old Meetinghouse Historical Association knew a lot better than the selectmen how to keep that building cared for and kept in its place on the historic registers.
Tombarello agreed, stating that the town didn’t have the same problems in other structures.
Copp pointed to concerns that work was being done on the depot and that there was no clear record of who owned what within its walls and what was being done with it.
The Tri-Town Times recently attempted to get in contact with historical society president Bruce Robinson to learn more about the work being done at the depot and whether items were being moved and where, but Robinson did not return multiple calls for comment.
Gulla suggested the selectmen might be more comfortable with a less stringent document, a sort of users agreement, but conceded that she was not aware of what that might entail.
The board directed Gulla to look into that suggestion, while also agreeing to look over the draft lease and come back at a future meeting with suggested changes.
Nicolaisen said he would like members of the historical society present before any changes to the status quo were made.

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