After Natalie Payne was appointed executive director of the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium (FLM&A) a year ago, she presented the Board of Trustees with an initiative that she called “Moving the Museum Forward.” Her plan laid out incremental steps for progress in bite-sized pieces, rather than attempting to tackle the entire project in one big chunk. That plan is working and progress is being made, although it’s not always obvious.
Case in point: last July, with much public acclaim, New Energy Works of Rochester, Inc. raised the timber frame from a 19th-century barn that had been donated to the FLM&A, alongside Sugar Creek on the museum’s Branchport campus. The barn, which will be known as the Creekside Center, will be used as a canoe and kayak livery. In addition to boat and equipment storage, the barn will also be available for museum and community events once bathroom facilities are in place.
A metal roof was added when the frame was raised, but when it came time to install the barn’s original siding, something of a nightmare unfolded. After the steel strapping that bundled the boards together was removed, colonies of carpenter ants were discovered in the siding and the infestation brought progress to a standstill. Another fundraising campaign would be needed to raise money for new siding – an expense that had not been included in the project’s budget.
When Kevin Kilbourne, who owns Rogers & Tenbrook Lumber Company in Dansville and Wayland, heard about the dilemma, he made a generous offer. Kevin donated not only all of the siding needed to enclose the barn, but also doors, windows and hardware to make the barn weather-tight and secure. As a result, construction has resumed and the Creekside Center opened on schedule in June. (See below.)
Making a match
Natalie has been busy successfully renegotiating terms on some of the museum’s finances, including grant awards from New York State and a line of credit with Lyons National Bank. In addition, the FLM&A received an anonymous $200,000 gift, on the condition that matching funds could be raised. Thanks to secured funding from the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center, that match has been made.
While on the subject of matching funds, it’s important to know that each of the FLM&A’s grant awards from New York State – over $3 million to date – comes with a requirement to raise about half that amount in matching funds. So far, the museum has only been able to access just over half of those grant awards because matching funds are still needed to finance ongoing construction.
Here’s how it works: Once a portion of the project is completed and paid for, the state reimburses the FLM&A for money spent to complete that portion of work. So essentially, for each $1 contribution, the museum gets $2 to work with – but not until after the work is done. All donations are tax-deductible.
The next step in moving the museum forward is to transform the gymnasium into an auditorium and meeting space, which will be used to hold educational programming and community events. A capital campaign to raise the funds for that phase of work is currently being designed, and will be launched later this summer.
Bringing water to life
The golden thread of the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium is water, and a unique water exhibit is being considered as part of the transformation of the former Branchport Elementary School building into an exhibit hall. By removing part of the existing floor, a new one can be built that gently ramps downward from north to south and follows a cascading stream, which originates from a melting glacier at the north end of the building and becomes a Finger Lake tributary at the south end. The stream would follow a geological timeline that begins with glacial recession and aboriginal occupation, and culminates with the grape and wine industry and Old Order Cultures.
Along the way, visitors would see the story of forest to farmland to forest, plus wildlife exhibits – including bald eagles, black bears, river otters, and more – that explain how these wild animals and birds relate to their freshwater habitats. Visitors would also be able to watch live brown and rainbow trout ford the shallow cascades and congregate in the pools. All of these exhibits would be designed to build into a crescendo toward a future exhibit: The Finger Lakes Aquarium building, which would be built and attached diagonally to the south end of the existing building.
In other news, Life in the Finger Lakes magazine editor Mark Stash has been elected to a three-year term on the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium’s Board of Trustees. We are excited to have Mark on board and look forward to working with him.
There are many ways to help move the museum forward. In addition to a generous cash contribution from Kevin and Mary Alice Kilbourne several years ago, the Rogers & Tenbrook Lumber Company owner recently donated all of the building materials needed to enclose and secure the Creekside Center. And Mike Saxton, Dean Hitchcock, and Jim Weld volunteered to work with FLM&A Project Manager Jim Higgins to install the materials provided by Kevin. Hats off to all of them!
If you have a gently-used canoe or kayak that you would like to donate, or if you prefer to make a cash contribution, please visit fingerlakesmuseum.org. Cash and material donations are tax-deductible. See the website for more details.
story and photos by John Adamski