SANDOWN – After months of stalled progress on obtaining an agreement over use of the train depot museum, the board of selectmen has told the historical society to sign a selectmen-created document as is or turn in their keys.
The decision, made at a special meeting held Thursday, Feb. 27, was the result of members of the society ignoring directions the selectmen gave them at their Monday, Feb. 24 meeting, as previously reported by the Tri-Town Times. After a heated discussion over the matter Feb. 24, the selectmen stated that either the society sign the selectmen’s agreement or they’d find another use for the building. While society members present, president Bruce Robinson and Bob Brouder, appeared to agree to do just that, by the next morning Robinson had changed the official town document before handing it in.
At the Feb. 24 meeting, selectmen said they were fed up with what they saw as Robinson’s giving them the run-around, and by Feb. 27, their opinions had not changed.
The depot is owned by the town, and as the governing body, the board of selectmen has responsibility over the structure.
Last year, following concerns that proposed changes to the building could have knocked it off the state or national historic registers, together with reluctance to pay exorbitant heating bills, the board began taking a closer interest in the structure.
Part of that work included inviting experts on historic preservation to the site to give opinions about how to move forward with the building and how grants for improvements might be obtained.
Concurrently the selectmen decided that like towns and historical societies across the state, there should be a use agreement between the town and the society.
While the first “boiler-plate” agreement met with dislike by both the selectmen and society because of its heavy handedness, since then the selectmen have been working with the society to come to agreeable terms.
But progress never seems to be made, and no definite ideas on how to move forward had been reached after several meetings between the groups.
Typically the pattern is that selectmen provide a document to the society, ask them to propose changes they’re comfortable with, and come back at a later meeting to discuss those changes so that both sides can agree. But when the society comes back, members generally haven’t discussed the selectmen’s document as agreed upon, or have replaced it with their own.
At one point it was noted that Robinson had not forwarded the selectmen’s agreement to the rest of his group.
While selectmen have praised the society for making great strides in cleaning up the building as volunteers, they are adamant that an agreement needs to be in hand.
On Feb. 27, the selectmen drafted a letter and gave the society 10 days, until Monday, March 10, at 4 p.m., to sign the agreement.
“I’m just done. I’m done working with this guy (Robinson),” said selectman Hans Nicolaisen. “It’s up to us. It’s our building. I’m so frustrated with the president of the historical society.”
Selectman chair Tom Tombarello said the entire process had been ridiculous and that he was also fed up. “I can’t say we haven’t put our best foot forward here,” said Tombarello.
The selectmen’s agreement is just over a page long and would be in effect for a single year. It specifies that the Town of Sandown owns the building but that the historical society has voter permission to utilize it. It states that the historical society is responsible for operating expenses (electricity only) and winterization costs. The building is not heated, as selectmen recently took out the heating tanks in response to high heating costs.
The document indicates that the society can heat the building if it handles installation and upkeep costs.
It also indicates that the town will handle insurance costs for the building and that it is responsible for any major repairs and improvements to the interior and exterior of the structure.
The document states that because the building is a historic landmark, any changes contemplated by the society must first be approved by the selectmen. It also indicates that every effort will be made to have representation from both parties present during decisions regarding repairs or changes to the building, but cannot be guaranteed because of potential urgency or matters beyond the control of either party.
The last paragraph includes when the building can be open, from April 15 until Oct. 15, and prohibits use of portable heaters or other heating sources without approval by the selectmen.
The document the society presented to the board deletes the portion of the last paragraph detailing open dates and adds a section that would force the selectmen to inform the society of any alterations or pending work to the building, a sticking point for Robinson.
Both items were discussed by the selectmen Feb. 24, but it was agreed the society should sign the document unchanged and come back before the board to add any language or make changes.
While there was some discussion about what the town would do with all of the historical items within the depot if it were closed, no decisions were made. Nicolaisen said he hoped the society would add members, or without Robinson, come back to work with the town.
Nicolaisen noted the history of the town is important and some people enjoyed visiting the depot, and he didn’t want to see that go away.