Nonprofit could rescue Vermont Marble Museum
By Bruce Edwards
STAFF WRITER | June 18,2012
PROCTOR — There is a glimmer of hope for the future of the Vermont Marble Museum.
Hit with a big jump in their electric bill, the owners of the 80-year-old Vermont Marble Museum planned to shut down the exhibit in the fall and with it the history of the marble industry in the state.
Now, owners Marsha and Martin Hemm say they’re encouraged about the museum’s future following a meeting with representatives from the Preservation Trust of Vermont and other interested parties, including Megan Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Tourism and Marketing.
Marsha Hemm said the Preservation Trust of Vermont is working on an option to acquire the museum and collection and keep it in Proctor.
“We’re trying to formulate an option agreement which would be a six-month option for them to then find an appropriate nonprofit to run it,” Hemm said.
Although the details remain to be worked out, Paul Bruhn of the Preservation Trust said keeping the museum and its collection in Proctor is a priority.
“This is a significant piece of Vermont’s history and it would be very, very sad to see the collection leave the state either intact or split up,” said Bruhn, the organization’s executive director.
The museum is a repository of the marble industry and the Vermont Marble Co. — at one time the largest marble company in the world. Its marble was used in the construction of government buildings and monuments, including the U.S. Supreme Court and Jefferson Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Bruhn said the idea is to have the Preservation Trust act as an intermediary, arranging for the sale of the museum to either an existing or new nonprofit group.
Bruhn said the Hemms’ desire is to see the museum remain intact and in Proctor.
“I can tell you that the direction that this is going in is that this would be a sale … substantially below the marketable value of the collection,” he said.
But Bruhn said the purchase will still require a significant amount of fundraising. How much it would cost to acquire the museum and collection hasn’t been determined, he said.
Other groups also have a keen interest in the museum, including the Vermont Historical Society, the Carving Studio and the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.
The Hemms announced in April they could no longer afford to keep the museum open and would close the exhibit in the fall. The Hemms and other commercial customers in town were hit with a jump in their electric bills after Central Vermont Public Service Corp. acquired the Vermont Marble Power Division last year from Omya Inc.
The Vermont Marble Power Division had some of the lowest electric rates in the state — primarily because upgrades to the hydroelectric facilities had been deferred for years. But that changed under CVPS, and the monthly electric bill for the museum more than doubled.
Bruhn said while power costs and other expenses are always a factor, the museum and the gift shop turn a profit.
“So we think there is a way to make this work financially in the hands of a nonprofit organization,” he said.
Related to the spike in the museum’s utility bill, the Hemms are pursuing the possibility of constructing a solar farm on 20 acres behind the museum. Financially, the Hemms couldn’t swing a deal that big but Marsha Hemm hopes the merged CVPS/Green Mountain Power Corp. would find the solar project feasible.
“I don’t think we could afford to put in a whole solar farm but what I’m hoping to do is I’m hoping to generate interest in them (the utility) to find the means to do an installation, whether they do it themselves or an independent company does it,” Hemm said.
She said a solar farm could help the museum financially.
Same Sun of Vermont made a rough estimate that a 20-acre solar farm behind the museum comprised of 40,176 modules mounted on 3,348 poles would generate 10.2 megawatts.
Representatives from groSolar of White River Junction visited the museum last week and are coming up with their own evaluation. As a general assumption, groSolar estimates that every four acres (with no shading and a flat surface) will produce 1 megawatt of power.
“The back part of the property is great because it’s not really viewable by any of the neighbors, so it’s not an eyesore,” Hemm said. “It’s got really good sun exposure and it would be easier to do because it’s a big flat area.”
She said a roof-mounted system was also considered but wasn’t feasible in part because of the contour of the roof. Same Sun estimated a roof-mounted system would generate an additional 1 megawatt.