Museum board seeks guaranteed protection for historic building

The Sidney Museum in Downtown Port Orchard. - Charlie Bermant
The Sidney Museum in Downtown Port Orchard.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

Representatives of the Sidney Museum are seeking assurances from the Port Orchard City Council to protect its building against destruction or relocation if and when the new downtown parking garage is constructed.

“If the city is against the idea of tearing the building down the council should pass a resolution saying so," said museum board president Jud Turner at a council study session Tuesday night. “I see no reason why there cannot be a formal declaration.”

The city seeks to build a parking garage in the vicinity of the museum, which is located at the corner of Sidney and Prospect Street in downtown Port Orchard. While the city has settled on the location, the scope and size of the project will not be determined until funding is secured.

In response to Turner, the council has instructed its staff to draw up a resolution protecting the museum building. The museum board is expected to help draft the resolution, due for consideration at the council's February 9 meeting.

No current member of the city council advocates the destruction of the building and have made repeated statements to support keeping the building in its current location. During last year’s council campaign each candidate voiced support for the status quo, or “whatever the museum board decides it wants.”

Even if such a resolution passes the building’s future is not guaranteed, according to Councilman John Clauson.

“We can pass a resolution but it is only worth the paper it is printed on,” Clauson said. “We all support keeping the museum where it is today, but a different council at a different time could make a different decision, and pass a resolution that says something completely different. Everything can change.”

There are four possibilities for the museum: Remove the building temporarily, excavate the parking garage, build a foundation and move the house back, leave the building where it is and build the project outside of its boundaries, move the building to another location, and declare eminent domain and knock down the structure.

Unsurprisingly, the museum board will only accept the first two options, and has promised to fight any move toward the latter two. No member of the council advocates eminent domain, but no one can promise that the city will never take such action under any circumstances.

The most recent plan, published online by the city, includes a library and a community center. As the plan is drawn, the museum building has disappeared. However, the presence of a drawing that shows a different structure in place of the museum has worried the museum board.

Turner has repeatedly addressed the council about the matter. He has received assurances each time, but is now asking for the removal of the online drawing and a statement by the city that the museum is safe.

In response, Councilman Rob Putaansuu called the plans “part of a concept drawing. We have not made a commitment to follow this plan, and have never said specifically what we were going to build at any point.”

Furthermore, Putaansuu said that budget conditions make it unlikely the plan would advance for at least another year.

Turner requested the city remove or change the drawing online. The council will not remove the drawing as it is conceptual, and cannot legally alter the drawing.

However, the council instructed the Information Technology staff to post a notice that emphasizes the plan's speculative status, and that no conclusions should be drawn from the absence of the museum on the map.

While the drawing suggests a dire long-term fate for the museum, its board is also worried about a short term impact. If the museum seeks grant money or a loan, the drawing could suggest that its days are numbered and endanger its fundraising abilities.

“You can say this plan is ‘only conceptual’ but that doesn't set our minds at ease,” Turner said. “You could draw up a plan for a pig farm next to Mr. Putaansuu's lovely home and say it was only conceptual and I don’t think he’d like it very much.”

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