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November 05. 2012 10:43PM

Independence Museum in Exeter fighting to reopen its doors


A sign on the door of the American Independence Museum announces the museum's closure for the season. The closure came at the same time that its paid staff was laid off last Friday. (JASON SCHREIBER PHOTO)

EXETER - The paid staff at the American Independence Museum was laid off amid financial struggles that have made it tough to keep open the doors at the historic downtown landmark.

In a letter, Randall A. Hammond, president of the museum's board of governors, said the "financially challenged organization" has operated at a loss during the 2012 season. Among the museum's permanent collections are an original Dunlap broadside of the Declaration of Independence, put on public display every July.

The museum operates with an annual budget of about $200,000 - more than half of which is used to pay staff.

"We were at a point where we were losing money and dipping into a lot of credit and facing potential bankruptcy," said Eric MacDonald, vice president of the board of directors.

The museum is located in the Ladd-Gilman House, built in 1721, and celebrates local history during the American Revolution - a time when the town of Exeter served as New Hampshire's capital.

"The board of governors has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that (the museum) has the necessary resources to carry out its mission; we remain accountable to our donors and the general public. In that spirit, this recurring pattern of insolvency has compelled us to take action toward a renewed strategic and operational plan," Hammond wrote.

The first step was laying off the four paid workers; they were given the news Friday.

While the decision wasn't easy, Hammond said it was necessary and was done to coincide with the museum's closure for the season.

The museum closes from late October to April, but some programs are still offered and the staff is usually there to plan for the next season.

All programs that were previously scheduled have been cancelled.

A local property manager has been retained to maintain the museum buildings and grounds throughout the fall, winter, and spring months.

The board of governors plans to review the museum's programming, operating expenses and the amount of staff needed to keep it running.

The board will also kick off an initiative to recruit local community leaders for the board, Hammond said.

"Since opening to the public more than 20 years ago, the American Independence Museum has been a cherished community and educational resource. We are committed to making it a valuable resource for generations to come," Hammond said.

Donations made to an annual 1776 Fund will be used to preserve the museum's collection and develop a plan to reopen in the spring with a strong financial foundation, according to Hammond.

The museum plans to hold its popular American Independence Festival next year.

MacDonald said he's confident the museum will reopen, but its programming will likely be different.

"We'll be a museum of some sort. I doubt we'll come out of this looking like the same museum we were before because something was wrong," MacDonald said.

Donations to the museum can be made through its website, www.independencemuseum.org.

jschreiber@newstote.com


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