(The following are the recollections of Anita Alic, BRAM capital campaign director, regarding the history behind the development of the museum's elevator wing and its efforts to raise the funds to purchase the elevator cab that will complete the vision of the museum's directors.)
The trustees of the Black River Academy Museum had long wrestled with the need for an elevator and where to place it. Given that every floor, including the front entrance, can only be accessed by climbing stairs an elevator was finally deemed necessary. Now, where to put it? Inside the existing building or encased in a separate tower connected to the building?
Initially, it was thought best to install the elevator in the existing building. Preliminary plans were drawn up and it was discovered that the elevator would use up a large amount of exhibit space and, in general, be a disruptive intrusion. Furthermore, this solution did not address the other problem of a second egress on the upper floors as required by fire safety regulations, the old metal exterior fire escape having rusted beyond repair.
In 2000 a Capital Campaign committee was formed and the committee asked John Berryhill of NBF Architects to draft plans for a separate elevator/fire stairs tower to be erected and connected next to the museum building. A campaign was started, but other pressing concerns and the lack of an “angel” donor, forced them to shelve the project in 2001 after raising about $9,000.
Near the end of 2006 the elevator issue was raised again, but this time with a trustee, Richard Nye, donating $100,000 to kick off the campaign and the trustees committing a sizable portion of the museum’s investment fund to this effort. The early days of 2007 were spent learning about fundraising from Sam Chauncey, who donated his time, and drafting materials for the campaign. By spring 2007 the campaign was launched and by the end of the year a matching grant challenge for another $100,000 was received from a trustee.
No project is without surprises and our initial and largest one was that the configuration of the tower had to be redesigned due to very sandy, unstable subsoil. The elevator shaft could not abut the building and go below the basement. The location of the fire stairs and the elevator shaft had to be switched and due to the existing museum structure, the tower’s footprint now had to be 20% larger, along with a corresponding cost increase.
At this point it was decided to do the project in two phases. One, to erect a weather-tight tower with usable fire stairs and two, install the elevator with all its electrical components and finish the interior of the tower. “Ground Breaking Day” was in July 2008.
In spite of the calamitous economic downturn, we were able to complete phase one in 2009, although not without unexpected additional costs given the age of the museum. Our new fire stairs have made it possible for visitors to explore all floors of the museum and once again, we will be able to host school groups on the top floor in our recreation of a late 19th century one room school, now that we pass fire safety regulations with the second egress and after an unexpected expense of $30,000 to upgrade the entire museum to current fire safety regulations.
2010 was devoted to fundraising for the final phase and we are nearing our goal. Final completion costs are approximately $176,000 of which we have about $74,000. The museum has just received a challenge grant, matching dollar for dollar, up to $50,000 from a special donor, Richard Nye, a member of its board. If the museum can match this grant, it can complete the project and the museum will be “Accessible to All” with fire stairs and a working elevator.
Fund raising has been mainly from private donors. As this tower was “new” construction, the museum did not qualify for any historical preservation grants. However it did receive an $18,000 Cultural Facilities Grant from the Vermont Art Council, payable upon installation of the elevator and a $1,000 grant from the Walter Cerf Community Fund.
The museum’s board has a vision of the museum being accessible to everyone; it has been successful in being very close to fulfilling its vision. The museum values and appreciates everyone’s help and hope that you will be a part of making this vision a reality.
To donate, please send a check payable to BRAM, P. O. Box 73, Ludlow, VT 05149 or visit our website, www.bramvt.org.