National volunteer recipient says old house should not stand in the way of expansion

To the Editor:

The Museum Addition

I’m annoyed and I need to calm down to make my views clear. I’m more than annoyed, but something short of angry.

I was shocked to see that the Innovation Centre was derailed by a small group of Southampton residents. That really hurt. Now it is the Museum Expansion that is being subjected to the same tactics.

The old house (Anglican Rectory) was sold by the Church to the County and now it is the centre of attention of the Southampton Residents Association (SRA) and some members of the old Save Our Saugeen Shores action group (SOS), who oppose the Deep Geological Repository.

I’m puzzled so I want to look at what I know for sure.

I spend a lot of time at the Museum. Presently about six months of my year is spent working there doing fun projects and working with friends and talented volunteers. I love it. It’s a learning experience for me.

The Museum desperately needs an expansion. If some of the naysayers took the time, they would find there is much to do as a volunteer at the Museum. Start there. Quickly a new volunteer recognizes the lack of space for working on specific projects and establishing a new exhibit and storage above all.

I examined my motives and background. Am I missing something?

I concluded that I am qualified to make these observations.

I was the recipient of the Canadian Museum National Award for volunteers.

I’ve also worked on a very difficult restoration at Chantry Island and other projects headed by professionals. For all these projects we did not use any public funds. There is nothing like ‘old’ experience and liking what you are doing and our area abounds with experience.

The Museum volunteers have wisdom too.

Let’s take a few examples of who works on what at the Museum. Dr. Rob Campbell performs miracles at the Museum. He has to take much of his work home due to lack of space and storage for his tools and what he is working on at present. The shop at the Museum is always crowded with new projects coming to the fore and old ones moving out.

Rob and Ralph Kralik are master craftsmen, but they, like many others at the Museum, lose huge chunks of time moving things here and there because of space. I remember having a work table to support one of the cannons I was fabricating. It was just right for what I was doing, but having it and the space was rare. That table is still there and it is prized by volunteers and staff. It’s really the only table that is so admired. It’s the only good work table that sometimes will fit the tasks at hand. We could easily make a few more, but there is no room to use and store them.

Then there is Dr. Bill Fitzgerald working mostly by himself on First Nations projects and Geology. He has to hide away his work product somehow until it is ready to go into his exhibits.

How about Randy Schnarr and his crew of 25 volunteers who put together the miracle of ‘Riding the Rails Through Bruce County’? They were severely restricted and did most of their work off site. This was ok at the start, but the last few months were very difficult in the extreme for them. For example, one of the super talented volunteers Craig Dolbeer sacrificed almost his entire house putting together the 50 microprocessors that control all the trains. He had no other place to work.

And then there was Ken Cassavoy and his large group of volunteers working on ‘The HMS General Hunter’. There were at all times 8 or 9 experts working in cramped conditions with no place to put their tools or work product overnight.

The folks opposed to first the Innovation Centre and now the Museum expansion propose integrating the old house into a new design. I know they say they are not against the expansion, just the loss of the Rectory. Could be that some are sincere.

Most of us admire and love old houses. My family residence on Grovesnor Street North was built in 1878 so I know and appreciate old houses.  The proposed addition to the Museum will be a plus for the area. It has been suggested by some to include the old house in the Museum Expansion.

This is the most expensive and risky option of all because it would have to be integrated into the proposed design and still be functional in an expanding role for the next 40 years. It would have to be good enough to sustain its mission in the larger and longer picture. The danger is doing a good job with a flawed plan. The result is a well done compromise.

The proposed new addition has to be functional in the extreme. We can’t add an old house and expect it to serve all the needs that the museum has for it over the next four or more decades. There will never be another chance … never a second chance, ever.

Well, I’m still as annoyed as I was when I began this comment. Maybe the SRA-SOS combination should think about doing something positive. What they are doing now is in a word … ‘boring’ and more and more folks are rolling their eyes at the negative ideas that comes out of these groups. There is a history of negativity forming and that seems to be  becoming entrenched in Southampton.

You know what makes me smile? Many of the people in the anti-column, who want to keep the old house, now live and thrive in new houses that replaced historic and classic old houses and cottages because the result of saving the old did not serve their plans and needs for the new! They made functional and economic decisions.

Mike Sterling