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Norwalk Museum’s move saving city money, leader says

The Norwalk Museum closed in May. The collection remains, inaccessible behind locked doors.

NORWALK, Conn. – The closing of the Norwalk Museum and its expected reopening near City Hall will save Norwalk taxpayers nearly $100,000 a year, Norwalk Historical Society President David Westmoreland said Wednesday.

Mayor Richard Moccia’s proposal to close the museum with the topic of much controversy in budget discussions last year. Westmoreland said the time spent to make sure the transition was done properly has been worth it, given the importance of the objects in its collection.

The city is still paying the rent at 41 North Main St., where the Norwalk Museum has been since 1995, although the museum has been closed since last May.

“We went through a very deliberate process to decide what the right answer was,” said Westmoreland, co-chairman of the Norwalk Museum Restructuring Committee. “We weren’t trying to save a few thousand dollars in making it. Because the history of the museum is so tumultuous, we wanted to do the right thing. If we spent a little bit more in rent, so what? In the scheme of things, it’s nothing.”

The target date for the end of the rent payments is the end of June, he said. The museum collection will first be moved to the first floor of the Norwalk Health building, and eventually next door to the Lockwood House, which is now being used for Norwalk Fire Department administrative offices. When the new fire house is done on Connecticut Avenue the building will become vacant.

Westmoreland and Susan Betts discussed the plans with the Board of Estimate and Taxation on Wednesday, where the 2013-2014 operating budget was being considered. The city will give the historical society an $84,000 grant to cover the cost of running the museum, and $25,000 to cover a part-time archivist. Director of Budget and Management Bob Barron compared that combined amount to the $201,000 budgeted for the museum in 2012-13.

Included in the $84,000 grant is funding for a part-time executive director. The society already has a part-time executive director, funded through private donations; the two positions will be combined into one full-time job.

The grant will allow the society to have a near-full-time curator and 35 weeks of an education director instead of 20 weeks, Westmoreland said.

“Because we’re basically combining the operations, we’ll have a much bigger staff,” Westmoreland said. “The city benefits because they’ll have a near full-time staff – they had one person before, now we’ll have effectively four or five full-time people overseeing the exhibit, running the museum, doing the exhibits, doing the programs. We’re effectively merging the two organizations.”

The museum restructuring committee went through “gyrations” over whether to put the research archive into the Lockwood House or the Norwalk Public Library, Westmoreland said.

“I think on balance the library is probably best suited to take it. They have good space all renovated and ready to go,” he said. “They have a team of people that are knowledgeable. They already have the software that’s connected to the Internet as they curate the items. The information that is in our archives will basically be available worldwide.”

The library is also open more than the Lockwood House will be, he said.

Moccia mentioned last year’s controversy, and the promises that were made that, even though the archive would be closed temporarily, it would eventually be available to far more people as the city modernized to the Internet.

The decision of where to put it is the city’s, he said.

2 comments

Bruce Kimmel March 7, 2013 at 10:30 am

I am very glad to see that we are finally putting in place the recommendations of the Museum Restructuring Committee. I am certain that the Historical Society will do an excellent job displaying and developing projects with the museum’s interesting collection. And I am also certain the Library will make the archives available to researchers and interested parties the world over, not to mention Norwalk residents. From what I’ve heard,the Library has already set aside space, has the software and personnel, plus the experience and financials to handle the archives in the manner our city deserves. Norwalk is an old city with a rich colonial past that needs to be preserved. Great news.

Lisa Wilson Grant April 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

In the meantime, I’m working on gathering vintage photos of Norwalk for my Arcadia book “Norwalk” (similar to the “Roton Point” book I did with my history committee last year) – if you have any interesting family photos or stories of Norwalk, please let me know lisawgrant@yahoo.com. Thanks! Lisa

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