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January 14. 2013 9:20PM

Exeter's American Independence Museum regrouping to reopen

EXETER - The financially-strapped American Independence Museum has raised enough money to cover its bills as the board of governors looks to reopen the museum's doors after the paid staff was laid off last fall.

Newly elected board president Allison Field said the museum has raised $50,000 since November, which has allowed the nonprofit museum to pay all of its bills, pay off the line of credit that was used for payroll in August, and carry the museum for some time with its current expenses.

The museum, located in the historic Ladd-Gilman House and celebrating local history during the American Revolution, operated at a loss during the 2012 season and was forced to lay off its four paid staffers in November - a move that coincided with the museum's closure for the season.

The financial struggles prompted the board of governors to take a closer look at the museum's programming and operating expenses.

The board is now seeking a part-time temporary administrator to work about 20 hours a week.

"Part of our strategic planning will be to establish a viable budget and an appropriate permanent staffing model," said Field, a North Hampton resident and regional vice president and commercial lender for The Provident Bank in Exeter.

The board continues to receive donations but is discussing ideas that will likely be launched this spring to raise money, Field said.

The museum will reopen as soon as possible and should be able to accommodate school tours this spring, Field said.

"We have a wonderful corps of existing volunteers who are ready, willing and able to give tours, as well as a number of new people interested in becoming involved in AIM that we are reaching out to. Our new board members bring great ideas and energy to ways that we can further enhance the AIM experience, including new programming," Field said.

The museum also recently added five new board members: Julie Gilman, Ed Hinton, Erik Loranger, Kathleen Mahoney and Pamela Rogers. They join existing board members Richard Cutter, Charles Goss, Randall Hammond, and James Moses.

The expanded 10-member board met on Jan. 9 and took a comprehensive tour on Saturday.

Field said the board's short-term focus is threefold: to continue to stabilize and build a strong financial foundation for the museum; to hire a temporary administrator; and to hold the American Independence Festival in July and be able to allow tours, school groups and some limited programming this spring and summer.

The board's long-term focus is to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for its future goals, validate and prioritize some of the ideas under discussion and create a plan of action, Field saidd.

"The American Independence Museum, though our physical campus is small, has a dimensional and very important story to tell about key facets in the founding of our nation and our governing documents, and the pivotal roles that the Exeter area, the Gilman family and the Society of the Cincinnati played," Field said. "We think it's a story worth saving and so we ask people to support us now, and come visit us this summer."

A volunteer meeting will be held at the end of the month to bring together existing and new volunteers.

jschreiber@newstote.com