‘Save the Ward Museum’ petition surpasses 2,000 signatures as members continue to speak out

SALISBURY, Md. – A petition against plans to move the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art in Salisbury has now surpassed 2,000 signatures.

The Ward Foundation announced last month the planned relocation of the museum to a new home in Downtown Salisbury as a result of ongoing mechanical issues following an HVAC failure last July. Since then, members, donors, volunteers, and others have been vocally opposed to those plans.

The Ward Museum’s galleries have been closed to the public since the HVAC issues arose, and the prolonged failure of the system created unsafe environmental conditions that officials say led to the development and spread of surface mold on carvings and other pieces of artwork.

Concerns have now reached a fever pitch in the form of a petition that has surpassed 2,000 signatures.

The petition’s organizer and Salisbury native, Phillip LeBel, PhD, tells us he organized it to call on Salisbury University, who owns the museum, to come to the table and work out a way where the Ward Foundation can stay in the same building.

“The goal of the petition is raising public awareness to broker a solution that can take place with the University and the Ward Foundation community so that the museum can remain in its present location on Schumaker Pond and can still function as such,” LeBel told our Rob Petree. “Some have said they do not want to have the museum or its art collection moved elsewhere, meaning downtown.”

Despite this outrage, there has been no word that staying in the same building is even being considered by the foundation or Salisbury University.

The Ward Foundation and Salisbury University maintains that it would cost millions of dollars to repair the HVAC system; however, Richard Hottel, a retired HVAC professional with over 50 years of experience, inspected the system and told us in an interview earlier this month that it could be fixed to last up to a decade for a fraction of that cost.

“It actually can operate the way it is,” Hottel said. “There’s certain aspects of it, in the summer when they have to run the boiler, to make sure the humidity stays out, it gets a little expensive so there’s a couple fixes that can improve that greatly on operating costs.”

That was actually part of a proposal that Salisbury University reportedly rejected, according to the museum’s interim director Brittany Andrew.

“We did present that to Salisbury University and they declined that,” Andrew told our Rob Petree in an interview at the time. “They are not interested in a stop-gap solution, they’re looking for a more long-term solution.”

The Ward Foundation became an affiliated foundation of Salisbury University in 2000. As part of that agreement, the University took ownership of the building, the grounds, the collection, and the debt ($1.6 million). The Ward Foundation and Salisbury University have an annual operating agreement that outlines roles and responsibilities of the two parties.

47 ABC’s Rob Petree reached out to Salisbury University asking if the Ward Foundation had the option to stay in the same location if they found a way. SU officials issued the following statement:

“The HVAC that serves the galleries has not been repaired or replaced and is not currently working,” the statement read by Jason Rhodes, spokesman for the university. “Estimates to replace, repair the galleries system to the standard required for the continued preservation of the collection are beyond the scope of feasibility for the current building’s continued operation as a museum. It is not an option for the collection, which is owned by SU, to remain in the current building.”

Following the HVAC’s failure, steps were taken to protect the art and remove the mold that formed as a result of the issue. Andrews tell us that most of the pieces actually weren’t affected.

“It’s all recoverable,” Andrews explained. “There was no significant damage. A lot of the pieces have what we call surface mold, nothing that is damaging to the paint, it just takes time and delicate hands to clean the artwork. Most of the pieces weren’t affected; however, they are in an infected area so all of the pieces need to be cleaned.”

Earlier this month, we spoke with several people associated with the museum, from donors to volunteers, who were opposed to the plans to relocate, including Dr. John Juriga, a longtime donor and volunteer who questioned what role Salisbury University has played in all of this.

“Nothing appears to gel with this ill-conceived plan by SU to move the Ward Museum from where it has resided for the past 30 years,” Dr. Juriga told our Rob Petree at the time. “It appears that SU has a death wish for the Ward Museum.”

Dr. Juriga wasn’t the only one expressing concerns, we also spoke to Meg Marcarelli, the daughter of the museum’s first curator, Dan Brown, who said her late father would be devastated by the move.

“My father is absolutely rolling over in his grave, for so many years he put his heart and soul into that museum,” Marcarelli explained. “He was a friend of the Ward brothers and they actually helped him hone his craft to become a better painter and a better carver, and not only was he doing this for the community, he was doing this to pay homage to them.”

The Ward Foundation is still in negotiations on where the museum will be re-located to. At this time, all that’s been said is that it will be a new location somewhere in Downtown Salisbury. There’s also no official word on what the university plans to do with the building that currently houses the museum.

The petition to ‘Save the Ward Museum’ can be found at the following link: https://www.change.org/p/save-the-ward-museum-at-schumaker-pond-salisbury-maryland?source_location=topic_page

Categories: Local News, Maryland