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The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill Museum's closing leaves vacancy

Stephen Rich, treasurer of Chapel Hill Museum’s, sold items from the museum to cover closing costs in October. The museum closed in June.
Stephen Rich, treasurer of Chapel Hill Museum’s, sold items from the museum to cover closing costs in October. The museum closed in June.

This story appeared as part of the 2010 Year In Review issue. The Daily Tar Heel resumes publication Jan. 10.

After the closing of the only Chapel Hill history museum, the town is evaluating how the building will be used — and how to preserve the town’s history without it.

The town is hosting several forums for public input on the future of the building that housed the Chapel Hill Museum, which sits at 523 E. Franklin St. The first was held Tuesday.

“We’ve been approached with a variety of ideas,” said Jeffrey York, town public arts administrator, at the first open house. “It’d be nice if it was a series of nonprofits connected with arts and culture.”

The museum closed in June and sold the last of its contents through an auction in October.

“That was the saddest day of my life,” said Doug Lay, a museum board member. “Countless, hundreds of volunteers had worked for the history of Chapel Hill.”

The museum asked for about $34,000 for museum upkeep for the 2010-2011 budget.

The town gave $22,500 for museum upkeep and $50,000 in capital improvements, which are allocated solely toward improvements on the building and not maintenance.

The future of the building on East Franklin Street is unclear, but town officials hope to gather feedback through the public meetings, surveys and suggestion drop-boxes.

The town looks to have a long-term plan done by June, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said.

Kleinschmidt said the museum’s closing leaves a void in Chapel Hill, but for now town government is relying on the community to figure out how to fill it.

“Some really important social change began in our community and expanded to other parts of the state and the South,” he said. “It’s important to preserve the documentation of history and have it accessible to all people, not just Chapel Hill.”

The building will house an art exhibit starting late January. The show will end in April but is guaranteed the space until July.

“We want to make sure it gets put to use so it doesn’t just sit dormant,” Kleinschmidt said.

The Chapel Hill Historical Society occupies the first floor, and there are no plans to change that, town spokeswoman Catherine Lazorko said.

“The town’s interest is in seeing that the main first floor is better utilized,” she said.

The museum building will have at least $50,000 in capital improvements in the upcoming budget because the building has serious structural problems, Kleinschmidt said.

“It’s a very unfortunate set of circumstances that the town has spent more money on renovations than would be required to keep the building open,” Lay said.

Lay said the museum board is still active even after the closing.

“Maybe in time, perhaps some generous donor would come forward, and we could have some permanent location where could start all over again,” he said.

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