York County History Center Change Process

Strategic Direction Documents

Conservation Assessment Program (CAP) Reports

The assessments in these reports were carried out by an architectural historian and a professional curator, who concluded that the York County History Center’s collections situation is unwieldy, and that its collections are housed in less-than-optimal conditions. The History Center recognizes that the resources necessary to catalog, care for and steward the collections and the ten buildings are substantially more than what is available. Having received this data, the History Center is looking at the current situation and evaluating the options.

Frequently Asked Questions about the York County History Center Change Process

Q: The Steam Plant is in the flood plain. Why house priceless artifacts and archives in an area that could be susceptible to significant damage from a flood?

A:  Yes it is, although the likelihood of that occurring is less than 1% according to maps and statistical data. It is important to note the History Center currently has five buildings in flood plains; none of those employ flood mitigation. New construction would plan for potential flooding. (It is somewhat common for new museums to be sited along waterways as a means to create tourism. Most recently, the new Whitney Museum in NYC moved to the Hudson River.)

The History Center already experienced a flood in the most important collection room, the rare book room, in the Historical Society building, outside the flood plain, due to aging infrastructure. In fact, we experienced five floods in three years in buildings the farthest from the creek all due to equipment failure.

Our best opportunity to safeguard priceless York County artifacts is to place them in newer environments with HVAC microclimates and flood mitigation.

Q: How much exhibit space will exist?

A: Currently there is 60,000 square feet, which rivals that of museums in large cities and eclipses regional institutions. We anticipate 15,000 square feet of exhibit space which will allow for more frequent rotation of exhibits or artifacts, showcasing the depth of our collection.

Q: What will become of the current buildings?

A: Moving to a centralized location will require logistical study and planning. The current thinking is the Historical Society building will be vacated first with collections storage moving to AIM initially. We have identified several uses for 250 E. Market Street property and approached several groups to discuss those ideas. We will continue to pursue those efforts.

Q: What will happen to the Colonial Complex?

A: These buildings tell the story of Colonial America and York, essentially the most salient artifacts. Rightsizing focuses more attention to the Colonial Complex by reallocating human and financial resources to it.

Q: Why not invest in the JE Baker Building and close other museums?

A: Rightsizing involves combining the largest buildings in the organization to improve visitation and create financial sustainability. If the JE Baker building replaces AIM, the organizational square footage doesn’t decrease. It is possible that the building will increase expenses. Based upon its operating history and financial models it would be the most expensive facility to operate.

Q: What is the savings to the organization annually if this consolidated plan is put into place?

A: The pro forma indicates a potential annual savings of $200,000. The model is based on current operating expenses with some modifying assumptions. More significantly, the organization eliminates $12M of deferred maintenance.

Q: Is The History Center going bankrupt?

A: No. Our balance sheet is healthy and our cash has recovered due to the generosity of this community. Consolidating our buildings eliminates an estimated $12M in future capital improvements at our existing sites. We have had to use a significant portion of our operating budget on building repairs, preventing us from providing mission related products and services. Additionally, we recognize philanthropic support is changing. To lose a $1,000 contributor means replacing that person with 5 donors of $200 which takes more human resources and time to secure.

Q: How does the $20m breakdown?

A: The bulk of the funding is for building and exhibits. Construction costs for museum buildings are between $250 – $300 per square foot while exhibits add an additional $400 – $800 per square foot. The estimate also includes fundraising and contingencies. It does not include the cost to purchase the property.

Q: What was the purchase price of the Steam Plant Building?

A: It was $1.75M reduced from $2.1M

Q: Where will the funding come from?

A: The plan includes securing $10M state funding through RACP, $6M in funding from individuals and corporations and the remaining funding coming from grants and tax credits.

Q: What happens if state or federal funding does not materialize?

A: The History Center will need to consider the best course of action to ensure the financial stability of the organization. If needed we will consider other options.

Q: How do you intend to sustain the organization beyond the completion of the capital campaign?

A: Through right-sizing we anticipate savings in reconfigured personnel, reduced utilities, insurance and related expenses. Annually the History Center receives approximately $45,000 in building maintenance funding which currently provide a percentage of the annual costs to maintain aging facilities. Presumably with less building and new construction the $12m deferred maintenance is eliminated providing the History Center the ability to accrue maintenance funding. These savings will help bridge the gap between revenue (earned and contributed) and expenses. The History Center enjoys tremendous support from the Cultural Alliance which provides 14% of operating revenue. Currently the endowment provides approximately 22% income to the History Center.

Q: What is the projected timeline for the project?

A: The initial timeline is based upon external factors. The Capital Campaign Review Committee has approved the public phase of our campaign to begin in July 2017.

Thank you for your interest in the York County History Center’s future.

The following excerpt from the “Pondering Change” document provides a glimpse into the board of director’s recent thinking as we navigate a changing community and world.

If you have followed my column over the years you know that museums in general, history institutions in particular, are diligently exploring ways to interest new generations. For The History Center, we have focused upon the important connections to the past that influence the present by offering fun programming juxtaposed with serious history to measure community interest.

Examination of our future form and function is absolutely necessary as external changes apply pressure to The History Center and similar institutions. There is empirical evidence that audiences demand different experiences today (interactive, hands on, experiential), that technology innovations influence public connections with museums, and funding streams are dramatically changing. There are three primary reasons to consider the next chapter.

True, The History Center is amazingly successful with our programs and services. That stated, managing and maintaining ten buildings is clearly untenable. Highly experienced museum consultants and a recent assessment by the Institute for Library and Museum Services (IMLS) noted The History Center is operating at great risk to the collections; we are not funded to the degree necessary to adequately care for these due to poor environmental conditions and lack of staffing. It’s true. It is immensely embarrassing and irresponsible to know that some collections were socked away in 1980 in a less than ideal place which contributed to the demise of some.

To be fair, we have focused our resources to gain public attention. Now that we have yours, I hope you will consider what The History Center means to you, the community and the region. As you read through Pondering Change, please ask what role museums play in economic development. How can our county history be made more meaningful to the community? What stories are most important to share? And most importantly, how will you help The History Center navigate to a new future? Your opinion, advice and assistance are greatly appreciated.