Town Opens Door for Museum Pilot on Top Floor of Old Town Hall

There has been a breakthrough in the long stalemate between the Select Board and the Bedford Historical Society over locating a town museum in Old Town Hall.

This week the town manager’s office issued a formal request for proposals to lease the third floor of the historic structure at 16 South Road “to serve as a town museum, display showcase or art exhibit.” Proposals are due by July 15.

Thomas Kinzer, Historical Society President, recently confirmed that the organization expects to respond with a plan to establish a museum on the third floor for at least the three-year period of the lease. The society board needs to approve the idea; Kinzer said he expects that the vote will “go well.”

“This gives us a chance to prove to ourselves and to the town that we can put together interesting exhibits –smaller exhibits that change relatively frequently so people will be encouraged to come back,” Kinzer observed.

“Prior to the execution of any lease, the ultimate use of the property must be approved by the Bedford Select Board,” the request specifies. “Rent for space being offered as part of this RFP includes utilities—water, sewer, electricity, heat, non-hazardous waste removal—and building maintenance excluding tenant space cleaning.”

Studies several years ago resulted in the designation of Old Town Hall as the preferred museum site, focusing on the second story. But that space has been used for many years by Bedford TV, and there have been no apparent alternatives for what is considered an essential operation serving the town.

So the issue hasn’t budged since well before the pandemic, and it has been assumed that a year-long comprehensive municipal space-needs study, which begins this summer, would provide some clarity on options for the museum, the television operation, or both.

But if the Historical Society files a proposal, and it is accepted, the concept of a museum in Old Town Hall will become a pilot program, with Bedford TV remaining on the middle floor.

Town Manager Sarah Stanton said the Historical Society initiated the idea several weeks ago. Kinzer added, “The idea came up as something that could be temporary, and it either works or it doesn’t. If it works, we can prove to the town that we can actually make some sort of progress. And the town was good enough to consider the idea. It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Kinzer is especially excited about the prospect of more exposure for the society and its collection. “The biggest problem has been that we have been largely invisible for the past 25-30 years,” he said. “A lot of people don’t know we exist, or that the collection of artifacts exists, or that we have ancient archives of the town.”

The request is a formal document designed to comply with state procurement law. So it’s conceivable that the town could receive more than one bid.

According to the request, “The Great Room located on the third floor is a large function room with serving kitchen. The Town intends to rent this space. Interior build-out of the space is permitted only with prior written approval from the Town. Structural alteration of the existing interior permanent walls will not be permitted. Property shall be returned to its original condition and layout at the end of the lease term at the expense of the Lessee.”

Kinzer said the society will apply for a three-year lease. The terms of the request include provisions for an additional year or two if the town approves.

Kinzer said several weeks would be needed after any agreement to work out details. For example, how would displays be presented – on the walls? Using movable display cabinets? There will be some trial and error, he acknowledged. And “we can always use people who want to help.”

Indeed, on Friday the Historical Society issued an emailed pitch for volunteers. “We’re hoping to get started on a museum for Bedford, and building support for that means being sure that as many people as possible know about the Society and what it’s doing,” the message said, asking for help in areas such as “marketing, merchandise and sales, outreach, and off-site displays.”

In recent years the society and the town have not been open to using the third floor for displays, since it is a popular and revenue-generating civic and social meeting space. Under the proposal, the Historical Society would manage requests for rentals, and benefit from the revenue stream. “The exact details are not clear, but we would continue that,” said Kinzer.

There are detailed terms in the request for proposals. Completing the paperwork is “fairly straightforward,” Kinzer said, noting that “the devil is always in the details. Several of us have looked at it and will be pulling in other people.”

Several weeks ago, the Historical Society’s collection and offices moved from the police station to the ground floor of Old Town Hall because of renovations at the station. Kinzer observed that the response to the Society’s Old Town Hall open house on June 11 was a real eye-opener on the potential for a museum. “There were a lot of people who were surprised to realize that there was such a society.”

The collection has been “invisible” in the interior of the police station for more than 25 years, he noted. “Everything was accessible to us but only with great difficulty. Some stuff was behind a 12-foot-high stack of boxes in the back room.”

The society intends to keep some of the ground floor open to the public. “We welcome people who want to come in and look around,” Kinzer said. “Right now we show people around when scheduled. We have made a lot of progress being on the ground floor, having archives in movable cabinets, making sure our cataloging is all up to date.”

“Getting eyes on this stuff is the most important thing you can imagine,” the society president said. “This is a way to do a better job of that.”

Kinzer said Taissir Alani, director of town facilities, was “a major author” of the idea, and the society also found support from Town Manager Sarah Stanton and Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell. Stanton said much groundwork was done with David Spencer, a former society officer.

“My view is it’s an opportunity for us to try something and accomplish something and learn something,” Kinser said. “It’s a lot better than doing nothing, accomplishing nothing, and learning nothing.”

There are compromises inherent in the arrangement. For example, the Historical Society – which emphasizes that this will be a town museum – envisioned paying only costs directly associated with a museum operation, mostly custodial.

According to the request for proposals, there will be an evaluation committee responsible for making recommendations to the town manager. Plans must include a “price proposal,” as well as a detailed description of operations, an audited financial statement, and a “three-year business/organization plan.”

Following the provisions of state law, “The Evaluation Committee will use the comparative criterion for each separate rating area, and based upon those criteria, will assign an overall rating to each proposal.” The categories are “not advantageous, advantageous, and highly advantageous.”

Evaluative criteria range from organizational experience and management team’s qualifications to the business/operation plan, financial capability, and proposed uses.

“The Town reserves the right to award the lease to the Respondent for the proposal deemed to be most advantageous to the Town, taking into account proposal quality and proposal price,” the request says.

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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Ted T. Martin
Ted T. Martin
1 month ago

The perfect place for it’s location…

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