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Aug 3, 2010 5:37 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Historical Society seeks more control over lifesaving station

Aug 3, 2010 5:37 PM

The East Hampton Historical Society is offering East Hampton Town what seems like an easy out in the case of the Amagansett Lifesaving Station—for which restoration plans were halted in December when the town attorney said money from the Community Preservation Fund could not be used for work on the historic structure.

The lifesaving station was built on the Bluff Road site where it stands now in 1902, and was bought and moved up the road by the Carmichael family in 1966. In 2007, the family donated the building back to the town and it was moved to its original location. The East Hampton Historical Society has contracted with the town to run the first floor of the building as a museum and oversee its exhibits.

The town was responsible for the building’s preservation, and last year, committed to using $173,000 from the CPF to restore the porch before determining that those funds could not be used for the project because the land on which the building stands was not acquired through the land preservation program.

Saying they thought the plan for the building’s restoration had been ignored long enough, members of the Historical Society told the Town Board on Saturday they would like to take matters into their own hands.

At the board’s work session on Saturday, Richard Barons, director of the Historical
Society, asked the board to consider rewording the existing lease between the society and the town to give the society the means to fund the restoration itself.

“When the agreement was signed it was believed the preservation fund could be used for restoration,” he said. “The contract says the town is responsible for financing the restoration and the Historical Society would oversee the exhibits. We thought it best to augment that contract and take over the fund-raising ourselves.”

Mr. Barons said the town would need to extend the Historical Society’s lease from 10 years to 50 years, which would allow the society to apply for up to $50,000 in matching grants from the state. The society plans to undertake a complete restoration of the building and hopes to launch a $500,000 fund-raising campaign, he said.

The group was also asking for complete control of the building; currently one room is reserved for use by lifeguards, said Arthur Graham, president of the Historical Society. The town would still be responsible for the security of the building under the augmented lease.

“We think that if we are willing to restore the whole building, we want to have control over that space,” Mr. Graham said. “I’m sure we’d be open to letting the lifeguards use it, we just feel that we don’t want that memorialized.”

Mr. Graham said he didn’t anticipate that the new arrangement would cost the town any more money than it had already budgeted for upkeep of the building.

Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said she would be in favor of changing the conditions of the lease and giving the Historical Society greater control. She said the plan is in line with the board’s move toward private-public partnerships.

“My general sense is that this is what we’re trying to do, which is take something the town owns and turn it over to another agency, like the Historical Society,” she said.

Isabel Carmichael, who attended Saturday’s meeting, expressed her dismay at the fact that the lifesaving station had been left in its current state, the plan to restore it seemingly forgotten after hitting a roadblock with the CPF.

She said her family would never have given the building back to the town “if we knew it would be treated in what seems like such a cavalier way.”

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Unfortunately, the EHHS really takes this town-owned building virtually private and removes it from many possible community uses. It is a short-sighted view on the part of the town. The building is sturdy and handsome and close to ample parking. It could be utilized by a variety of community groups, as well as by community charities. We are short community space in this town. If the EHHS can apply for up to $50,000 in matching grants, couldn't another non-profit also qualify for that grant money? ...more
By P.A.B. (23), East Hampton on Aug 5, 10 11:48 AM
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