Volunteers with The Aberdeen Room Archives & Museum have been shocked to learn they may have to vacate their longtime downtown building, which is owned by the City of Aberdeen.
The museum is a treasure-trove of documents, heirlooms and other archival material documenting the city's history and that of the surrounding area, including a 99-year relationship with Aberdeen Proving Ground.
Mayor Patrick McGrady says the museum's lease in the city-owned building at 18 N. Howard St. has long been expired, leaving city leaders in a tricky position.
As the city has pressed museum leaders on the need to resolve the situation, however, they have in turn been spreading the word that city leaders are trying to shut it down.
Director Paul Ciesla said new city manager Randy Robertson and Planning and Community Development Director Phyllis Grover met with him and two other volunteers about two weeks ago.
"As far as this building goes, we were told that they were looking to sell this building so they could reduce their properties," Ciesla said Wednesday.
Ciesla said the city representatives told him if the building were to be put up for sale, the Aberdeen Room would have 30 days to leave.
"They have just totally written us off," Ciesla said. "I didn't find the [city] manager to be friendly, helpful or courteous."
The Aberdeen Chamber of Commerce, which has been sharing an adjacent office, is making its own plans to potentially move, he said. The Aberdeen Room has occupied its space in the building for 17 or 18 years, according to Ciesla.
Robertson is out of the country until next week, but McGrady said the city has no immediate plans to sell the building. He said city leaders are just trying to resolve the lease situation.
The most recent lease with The Aberdeen Room expired in 2014, according to records provided by the city.
"We are not trying to sell the building. There is no contract to sell the building," McGrady said.
The city manager sent The Aberdeen Room a letter informing them that, since there is no lease in force, the volunteers would be given notice to leave the building if it were to be sold, he said.
The mayor reassured that he loves the museum and that it has good volunteers. He urged anyone with questions or concerns to call him at 410-357-1234.
He did say the city has been evaluating its assets to "make sure we are providing value to the taxpayers," and the discovery about the expired lease is part of that.
"We are just trying to be good stewards of the taxpayers," McGrady said, pointing out the former home of the Moose Lodge on nearby Rogers Street, which previous mayor Mike Bennett and the prior city council agreed to buy for $435,000, "is falling into further disrepair."
The state's Department of Housing & Community Development, meanwhile, has expressed interest in another older building the city is taking over downtown, the former Aberdeen High School, he said. That building is owned by Harford County, which is in the process of declaring it surplus so it can be given to the city for $1.
The Aberdeen Room does expect to take over ownership of the B&O Railroad Station on West Bel Air Avenue in the coming weeks, Ciesla said. No one would be able to move into that building for another two to three years, he said, since it still needs extensive renovation.
The museum would still need to keep its collection elsewhere, as the B&O station is too small to house everything, he said.
Ciesla said he just found out about the expired lease with the city. He said the city budgets $3,200 annually for maintenance and related costs at the museum.
He also said moving all the historic files and archived information quickly would be very difficult, because there are "a lot of valuable things" that would need to be preserved or protected.
The Historical Society of Harford County did offer museum leaders the use of the basement in its Bel Air headquarters, he said.
Molly Cronin-Kelly, an Aberdeen Room volunteer, wrote a long letter of support for museum and said she has been receiving positive comments on her Facebook page. She supplied a copy of the letter to The Aegis and The Record..
"Why now? What is the rush... What is the City of Aberdeen up to now?" Cronin-Kelly wrote. "The Museum cannot hesitate that a miracle might come along to save The Museum; They are organizing to begin packing things up... We cannot just put The Museum anywhere; it has to be protected from heat and moisture."