Board members Sandra Robinson, Jeanne Morris and Dede Schaffner prevailed over dissenting board members Barry Gainer and Diane Bauer at the Nov. 20 School Board meeting.
The decision is pending a structural engineering study that will determine if the museum building is structurally sound and safe for occupation by the fourth grade students that visit the school on field trips.
If the building is deemed structurally unsound, the museum will be closed until it can be made safe again. If the building is determined to be sound, museum operations will continue as usual.
School Board members were in agreement that the county could no longer be the sole source of funding when it comes to operating the Student Museum.
It was recommended that a committee made of representatives of the school district, the city of Sanford, the Student Museum and citizens throughout Seminole County be formed in order to come up with a solution that would keep the museum in operation while lessening the financial burden on the county school system.
School officials have said it costs in excess of $207,000 to operate and maintain the museum on an annual basis. They also claim the facility is in need of $5 million in repairs – although there is a feeling among some School Board members that not all of the repairs are of a critical enough nature to warrant closing the museum.
Kosmac first made mention of closing the museum during at a mediation session in which school district officials and city of Sanford officials failed to reach an agreement in regard to the condemnation of the vacant wooden lunchroom/cafeteria located behind the main museum building.
City of Sanford officials would like to see the lunchroom restored because of its historical value as one of the earliest lunchrooms in the state to serve hot lunches.
School officials claim the building is beyond repair and would cost more to salvage than it is worth – especially at a time when county funds are tight due to the recent budget cutbacks.
Sanford Mayor Linda Kuhn and City Commissioner Art Woodruff attended the Nov. 20 School Board meeting. Toward the end of the discussion, Kuhn told School Board members she too wanted to see the museum remain open because she feels it is an asset to the community.
Kuhn was among those present at the failed mediation session that led to Kosmac’s suggestion that the museum be closed. Given the amount of support voiced in favor of saving the museum, the school district and the city of Sanford are going to have to come to some form of compromise on the lunchroom.
While the lunchroom does have historic value, city officials may have to soften their stance when faced with the choice of holding firm in their demands that the lunchroom be preserved at the risk of seeing the museum closed.
Toward the end of the museum discussion, School Board member Dede Schaffner summed up her feelings on declaring the museum surplus property when she said, “What’s the message we’re sending,” suggesting that declaring the museum surplus property means it is no longer needed, even through doing so would give school officials the flexibility to give or sell the property to another municipality or organization.
“I think you’re sending the wrong message,” Schaffner said.
The people speak
Kaylah Johnson told board members she visited the museum when she was in fourth grade. Now a teenager, Johnson said she was “sad and upset” when her mom told her the School Board was considering closing the museum.
When Johnson told her classmates about the museum being in danger of closing, they put their thoughts down in words that Johnson plans to deliver to school officials.
Johnson said one of her classmates wrote: “The Student Museum was the most fun field trip she has ever been on.” Another classmate touted the virtues of the museum’s hands-on learning opportunities.
Johnson said her fourth grade field trip was her first chance to explore an old building. She said her favorite room in the museum was the old fashioned classroom where students get a feel for what student life was like back “in the early days.”
Johnson said she also gained a greater understanding of the ways of Native Americans during her visit to the museum and in closing said, “I would like the School Board to keep the museum open because it’s a landmark and because I think it’s a special place. …”
Jackie Gammon, Kaylah’s grandmother and a Master Gardener at the museum, said she has had the honor of coming in contact with many outstanding teachers and administrators, yet has never come in contact with a group of educators that “possess an equivalent passion” as she has seen demonstrated by the staff at the Student Museum.
Leslie Martino, one of the “guardians of the museum” has been a part of the Master Gardening program since 1998. She told board members how the efforts of the Master Gardeners have helped transformed once empty grounds into a beautiful garden.
“This tour is a special experience that broadens a young persons understanding of gardens,” Martino said, pointing out that the museum also offers programs for adults.
Former teacher and administrator Charlotte Smith said she was concerned about the process that led to things getting to the point they did. Smith said these types of actions should not be repeated and suggested that school officials may not have followed proper protocol in recommending the museum’s closure.
“The process that the school district has been asked to follow has not been followed and I’m troubled by that,” Smith said.
Smith urged all parties involved to set aside their differences and engage in “open and honest” dialogue in an effort to resolve the current situation.
Mary Rowell and her daughter Chelsea both addressed board members. Mary mentioned “the wonderful opportunities the museum has offered Seminole County students and how the experience has touched those student’s lives and meant so much.
Mary questioned whether those who suggested closing the museum had ever set foot in the facility, because if they had, they would have never suggested closing it.
“If you close it, you shouldn’t have your jobs,” Mary said. “If you close this museum, you should not be allowed to work in any kind of educational field because you don’t understand what it means to kids.”
Chelsea, a senior at Lake Mary High School, told board members she visited the museum when she was in fourth grade.
“I never really liked history, it wasn’t one of my favorite subjects, but when I went to that museum it kind of opened up a door for me and now I volunteer at the Lake Mary Historical Museum,” she said. “History is one of my favorite subjects now and I work at the museum every chance I get.”
Chelsea recalled watching a local newscaster mispronounce the word “Timacuan” when referring to the Indian tribe. She said she knew the proper pronunciation because she learned it at the Student Museum.
“I can’t remember my fifth grade field trip, but I remember almost everything that happened at that museum,” she added.
Referring to school district officials suggesting a traveling exhibit of artifacts to replace the Student Museum, Chelsea said, “I don’t understand how you can take an entire Timacuan canoe and bring that to the schools. I don’t understand how you can carry an entire classroom to the schools – they won’t get the same kind knowledge and they won’t get the same of experience. You can’t take the garden around to the schools, it won’t be the same thing.”
Sanford resident Karen Jacobs, museum coordinator at The Museum of Seminole County History, told School Board officials how “her building” was going to be torn down at one time because there were holes in the wall, water intrusion and rats in the buildings – problems the Student Museum does not have.
Jacobs and others formed a committee and secured a $250,000 matching conservation grant that was used to help restore the building. She encouraged the school district to hire a professional grant writer to secure similar funding for the Student Museum.
“My museum was renovated and restorated and we built another building, so I know it’s possible,” Jacobs said.