WHITMAN — How to make use of the former Police Station at the rear of Town Hall has been an open question for some time. During the Tuesday, Oct. 25 Select Board Meeting, Whitman Historical Commission member Marie Lailer made the organization’s pitch to use at least part of the facility, among possible locations for a Whitman Museum.
“We have a lot of town support for this,” she said. “The pieces of history that have found their way into our office, the DPW office, the Fire Station, the Police Station, just to mention a few, deserve a place to be preserved and protected.”
Concerns discussed involved the presence of asbestos, load-bearing walls, the need for secure storage areas for current town documents and ADA-compliant access to the site.
Lailer cited a Select Board discussion in January 2022, during which the commission asked the board to commit to moving the commission’s office and establishing a museum at the former station.
“The space is ideal, given it’s location in a current town building with handicapped access, but much work would need to be done before a move of our valuable historical collection could be completed,” she said. “All of this will take funding to make the interior suitable for this type of endeavor.”
South Shore Tech has already offered it’s assistance, but Lailer added, it would take great commitment of both time and money to make the proposal a reality.
The Commission is “at the gateway — for the first time — to request funding through the town’s newly approved participation in the Community Preservation Act and have applied to the CPC for additional funding “above the 10 percent automatically provided through the program to historical ventures,” according to Lailer. All donated historical documents, maps and memorabilia will be displayed in a way that residents can access for information and “enjoy the detailed history that is currently crammed into our office.”
In order to request the CPC funds, a sign-off is needed from the Select Board. That also involves allocating a space for the museum.
“We have talked to many residents regarding our hope, and feel this location is perfect for many reasons,” Lailer said, mentioning parking and accessibility at a town building with historic importance — and a part of it that has sat, empty, for many years.
“I would love other suggestions, but where are they?” she said.
That long-vacant status may continue for a while.
“We have discovered some challenges down there,” Select Board Chair Randy LaMattina said. “Such as asbestos, that needs to be removed. We also have some disability compliance issues that would have to be rectified because of the stone steps up and the steps down … from room to room.”
“It’s not a level facility,” interim Town Administrator Frank Lynam said. He also expressed concern about building security since the lower-level emergency exit goes out that way and, he said, the cells should be considered as vault areas.
Lailer said the cells were not included in the space the commission is considering, and agreed that a walk-through with Lynam might help the board envision the proposal better.
“I thought that would be a perfect place, too, until I started walking through it again,” Vice Chair Dan Salvucci said. “But that was way back when. … now we have more things to look into.”
Accessibility codes now take into consideration the width of doors and the height of steps. He also said the asbestos removal would have to be completed before SST students would be allowed to do any work there.
Salvucci also expressed concern over the fact that all the walls in the police station area are load-bearing, which could effect the cost of any renovation work.
Lailer suggested that the museum could work with existing walls, each room could be dedicated to a different aspect of town life and services.
Select Board member Justin Evans noted that the Historical Commission had been asked to return estimated costs for renovating and retrofitting the building to the board. He also said the board needed to hear recommendations as to what to do with unneeded existing equipment, “odds and ends the town is using and where the funding would come from.
Lailer said the commission is only interested in using the old police station, and stated that CPA money can be held in saving for a future project. She also asked for former Building Inspector Bob Curran to provide a walk-through to discuss cost factors during which he pointed out electrical work and other things that needed to be done.
She said the recent building inspector informed them that a walk-through wasn’t in his job description.
“I don’t know where to go from there,” Lailer said.
Evans said a $90,000 request for state funds through state Rep. Allyson Sullivan did not make the cut in budget discussions. Lailer said she is looking for additional grants.
Lynam also suggested the possible use of the former Park Avenue School and has consulted town counsel opinion.
“The process of taking over that particular property requires us filing a complaint in Superior Court, getting the attorney general to join us in setting aside a restriction that should never have been in the deed,” he said. Several ideas have been considered for its use in the past, but the deed specified the land be used for “school purposes” only.
They are also in talks to invite John Campbell to bring his extensive historical museum to the facility in the future. If he does make that decision, the commission would like to name the facility in his honor — the John Campbell Historical Museum — in recognition of the collection he displays in the former Regal Shoe Building on South Avenue.