ORLEANS — The Centers for Culture and History in Orleans is focused as much on the future as on the past these days. Last week, board chair Jay Stradal shared the organization’s five-year plan for its East Orleans campus bordered by Main Street, River Road, and School Road.
“Our vision,” he told the select board July 14, “is to update the CHO buildings (the historic Meetinghouse and Hurd Chapel) to serve as a destination hub, providing badly needed meeting and event space not just for us but for the community. We want to partner with the town and other Orleans organizations to expand programs at the CHO and the (town-owned) 139 Main St. properties for youth, recreation, seniors, and do all of the above while respecting the historical heritage of the sites and the needs of the town.”
With work on the Meetinghouse and the Hurd almost completed, CHO is getting started on an outdoor plaza between the buildings that would host even more activities. “We’re working with (recreation advisory committee chair) Tracy (Murphy) and her team,” Stradal said, “and with the Orleans Improvement Association. We’ll soon have a board member on the Orleans Historical Commission. We met with the board of health about catered food service and met with the DPW and Natural Resources to coordinate parking at 139 Main.”
The organization, formerly known as the Orleans Historical Society, has had a series of short-term agreements with the town to use the first floor of the town hall annex at 139 Main for temporary storage and office and research space while its historic buildings have been renovated.
“An extension of the license, perhaps for five years, would allow us to maintain our work stations there and keep some of our collection there,” said Stradal. “It won’t all be able to fit back into the Hurd when that’s available, and this would give us a little more time to move materials back. Our current extension ends Sept. 30. As we move things out of the annex, as far as collections, that opens up space for our partner organizations to use for meetings and classes.”
“One of the goals of the recreation advisory committee is to broaden the idea of recreation,” Murphy told the select board. “We’re really excited by what CHO is doing to bring together recreation with Orleans history. There’s a relationship we can build on at that site, and I don’t see anything in the plans tonight that hinder our ability to still do something maybe a little more traditional. Hopefully Orleans can have both pickleball courts and programs for multi-generations through CHO. It’s a wonderful relationship so far.”
CHO is also looking to lease more space to accommodate a new or relocated historic building that would eventually house the famed CG36500 lifeboat whose crew carried out the Coast Guard’s most famous rescue. Stradal said the remaining area could be public space for recreation.
“That boat is 75 years old this year,” he said. “In spite of its age, it is in great shape and we hate to take it out of the water, but it’s a wooden boat. At some point, it doesn’t make sense to keep it in the water. That might be in five years. We could exhibit the boat in a year-round, probably 2,000-square-foot building near Hurd Chapel to take advantage of the natural slope by the parking lot.”
“I support what the CHO is trying to accomplish,” Dick Ryder, the boat’s coxswain, wrote in an email.
Noting that the town is “busting at the seams,” select board member Kevin Galligan said the annex continues to be important for meeting the town’s needs such as access to site plans until these can be digitized. “We have been looking for a (select) board commitment to the renovation of the building to provide much needed space for town hall,” Town Administrator John Kelly said. “We acquired that property from the American Legion, $398,000 for general municipal purposes. Those needs are not met at this time. We have money set aside but we do not have a commitment from the board… We need additional meeting space. Parking over there is finite. I’d like to see us fully utilize the building for the purposes we purchased it back 20 years ago.”
“We’re very flexible,” Stradal said. “If the town is not doing anything with the annex, we can do a year-to-year agreement. Our concern was not wanting to keep coming back to you every three months.”
Select Board Chair Mefford Runyon wanted to know if the annex could have an addition. Kelly said the town has right of first refusal on another acre to make a buildable lot.
“Until we develop a formal plan for it, it’s fine to have the historical groups use that space,” select board member Mark Mathison said. “The time has come for a formal plan as to what needs to be done.”
“Let’s look at what we need to do to assess the building’s ability to be upgraded, for a controlled environment for vital storage,” said Kelly. “Then we’ll know from there what we can and can’t do… In the meantime, we can just extend the license beyond Sept. 30 on the same terms as before.” Kelly said discussions with the town about a building location for the 36500 should wait until CHO can have a formal concept plan drawn up, as it did for the relocation of Hurd Chapel.
“This is an incredible opportunity to look at the site as a whole,” select board member Andrea Reed said earlier, “maybe to invite the Old Firehouse design group in. You want history to be alive. Town government is happening on that site every day.”
The Centers for Culture and History in Orleans plans to reopen tomorrow (July 23) and to welcome visitors to its exhibits Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1 to 3 p.m. and for lectures and entertainment as advertised. Search for The Centers for Culture and History in Orleans or go to orleanshistoricalsociety.org for details.