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Saturday March 25th

Chapel Hill to decide if it can save museum

Fire safety program may continue

	<p>The Chapel Hill Museum,  which displays the history of the town and provides educational programs, plans to close due to a lack of funding.</p>
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The Chapel Hill Museum, which displays the history of the town and provides educational programs, plans to close due to a lack of funding.

For 14 years, the Chapel Hill Museum has provided visitors a look into the town’s rich and unique history.

But last week, the Chapel Hill Museum Executive Board of Trustees announced the museum will be closing if the town does not take ownership.

Traci Davenport, museum director since 2005, said the emotional impact of the decision is huge.

“With the closing of this museum, there will no longer be a responsive resource to let citizens know the vibrant and varied history of this town,” she said.

Don Boulton, co-chairman of the museum’s Board of Trustees, said he was present when the museum opened in 1996 after it was proposed for the town’s 1993 bicentennial.

“I believe we have built a museum that the town can be proud of,” he said. “And I would like very much for the town to claim ownership and to continue to tell our story.”

While the town owns the building the Chapel Hill Museum is in, it does not own the museum itself.

The museum opened after a group of people, including Boulton, went to the Town Council asking permission to open a museum. But they believed the town would eventually assume ownership, which it could still decide to do.

The museum’s allocated funding of $34,250 — less than 1 percent of the town’s annual budget — is not enough for upkeep and utilities, Boulton said.

“We are a town that deserves to have a museum; we should have one, and we built one,” he said.

Even after the building is emptied, Davenport said they are looking to continue the museum’s educational mission with their educational programs, including one on fire safety.

The fire safety program has taught more than 1,000 second graders essential life safety skills, burn prevention and the importance of firefighters through a puppet musical, she said. Boulton said the fire safety course is also a required course for elementary schools.

“I think it’s a shame that it’s being overlooked,” said John Woodard, pharmacist and owner of Sutton’s Drug Store, a piece of Chapel Hill’s history in its own right. Sutton’s has been open on Franklin Street since 1923.

Woodard said he thinks the town could come up with the necessary funds to keep the museum open and ensure people can come and learn about Chapel Hill.

There’s more to the town’s history than just the University, he said.

And not only local citizens will miss out on learning about Chapel Hill’s history.

Velma Ferrell, the museum’s shop manager, said a woman drove down from Pennsylvania last week to visit the museum. She said the woman spent several hours looking around the James Taylor exhibit.

People from all over the globe visit the museum and learn about the town’s history, Ferrell said.

“It’s been a wonderful experience for me to be the collector of anecdotal and historical stories that make up the history of this town,” Davenport said.

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