Ward Museum concerns mount after new location announced by Salisbury University

SALISBURY, Md. – Salisbury University’s announcement on the Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art’s new location has some donors and volunteers speaking out, raising concerns over the future of the museum.

Salisbury University officials say the museum will move from its current location at Schumaker Pond to the Powell Building in Downtown Salisbury, a decision that has outraged some who have worked for decades to help make the museum what it is today.

“The visitor experience will be diminished,” explained Dr. John Juriga, a longtime donor and volunteer at the museum. “The view of Schumaker Pond through soaring glass windows will be replaced with a view of concrete and asphalt.”

SU says the move will allow for the collection to be more accessible and connected to the community, in addition to presenting opportunities for new partnerships and programs, but not all agree. Dr. Juriga questions the safety of the artwork in its new location.

“There’s 20 mixed-use apartments above that space and I’m concerned about the safety of a museum space from water damage from up above,” Dr. Juriga told our Rob Petree. “I understand that the HVAC system at the Powell Building is no better than the system that’s in the current museum.”

These concerns and more were echoed in an online petition that is nearing 4,000 signatures. The petition’s organizer, Phillip LeBel, encouraged everyone to sign it to send a message to Salisbury University.

“I would hope that the citizen’s of this area and those that care about the Ward Museum express their voice as to why this does not make a lot of sense, both economically and in terms of the environmental impact,” LeBel told our News Anchor Rob Petree.

Salisbury University Spokesman Jason Rhodes shot back when asked about the petition, suggesting that some of the signatures were not local.

“If you look at some of the signatures on the petition, you’ll see that not all of those names are local,” Rhodes explained. “Now that the announcement has been made, many of those people are going to understand that this move is being made to actually make sure we’re able to preserve that waterfowl carving tradition.”

While it may be true that not all of the names on the petition are local, Dr. Juriga says that’s because the Ward Foundation’s is a multi-state and international organization.

“The annual carving competition in April, we have carvers who come from England and Japan,” Dr. Juriga said. “So, there is outrage in the extended community here.”

The Ward Foundation became an affiliated foundation of Salisbury University in 2000, with the University taking ownership of the building, the collection, and the Ward Foundation’s debt of approximately $1.6 million. Effective July 1, SU will no longer maintain an operating agreement with the Ward Foundation.

The financial position of the Ward Foundation has been a significant concern of SU for the past several years, according to a press release issued by Salisbury University earlier this week. Officials say the most recent independent audit reports on the foundation’s financial position highlight issues such as a significant decrease in net cash flows and an increase in the line of credit balances.

SU officials say items from the collection will be displayed on a rotating basis, as they were at the Schumaker Pond building. When not on exhibit, items will be cared for in climate-controlled storage at SU’S Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History and Culture, as well as other off-site locations.

The University is not intending to divest any core pieces of the collection. Those who currently have items on loan at the museum have been contacted to assure them that their artworks and artifacts are being properly cared for and provide the opportunity for those items to be returned if desired.

There’s been no official word on what the plan is for the Schumaker Pond location. When asked about this, Rhodes said they don’t currently have any plans in mind for the building at this time.

“We don’t have plans for the building,” Rhodes said. “We can’t sell the building without the permission of the Maryland Board of Public Works because it is a state building and that’s not something we’re pursuing at this time.”

Moving forward, those opposed to the plans are considering protesting the move. This continues to be a developing story that 47 ABC is following very closely. We will of course keep you updated as further developments emerge.

Categories: Local News, Maryland