Granite museum is seeking direction from public Granite museum is seeking direction
By David Delcore
Staff Writer | October 09,2012
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff File Photo
The former Jones Brothers manufacturing facility in Barre is the site of the Vermont Granite Museum.
BARRE — Proponents of a museum that has been stalled at a crossroads for at least a year are hosting a community forum Thursday night in hopes of jump-starting an idea that was hatched nearly two decades ago.
The idea — the product of an economic development summit in 1994 — has come a long way since then, but organizers concede there’s still a long way to go and no clear path to get there.
The Vermont Granite Museum does have an address in the renovated Jones Brothers granite plant. However, former Barre Mayor Harry Monti’s pledge 12 years ago that the granite museum would one day “be to Barre what the mountains are to Stowe” hasn’t come to pass.
Monti’s bold prediction came in the run-up to a $1 million bond vote that residents backed in November 2000 by a margin of 2,118 to 1,565. That result has led to grumbling over the years, particularly from those who are quick to note they are still waiting for the major new tourist attraction they were told would be a boon to Barre’s historic downtown.
Lost in the chorus of “I told you so’s” are real success stories, according to museum organizers who believe the community project — that’s what it was in the beginning and still is in their view — is at a make-or-break moment.
“Right now we’re at a crossroads,” veteran museum board member Jeff Martell said Monday. “We just want to get a sense from the community: Are we beating our heads against the wall … or is this (museum) something the community still wants?”
According to Martell, Thursday’s 6:30 p.m. forum at the museum building on Jones Brothers Way, coupled with the results of an online survey, will begin to provide the answer.
“We need fresh ideas and we need dialogue … because the course we’re going down, quite frankly, is not going to get us anywhere,” Martell said.
The board’s current chairwoman, Patricia Meriam, echoed that assessment.
“It’s time to pull everybody together and re-evaluate,” Meriam said of the forum, which is being hosted in conjunction with the City Council and local planning commissioners.
Meriam has some ideas and believes finding a way to hire a full-time executive director should be among the board’s next steps. But she said nothing has been decided.
“We’re looking at all kinds of options,” she said. “Everything is on the table.”
It should be, according to Mayor Thomas Lauzon, who said he hopes Thursday’s forum will answer one central question, and it doesn’t have anything to do with whether to hire an executive director for the museum.
Lauzon said he is looking for an affirmation that residents still believe the story of Barre’s granite industry is worth telling.
“I think the answer to that is unequivocally yes,” Lauzon said.
“If you look at the granite industry and everything that it’s done, not only for Barre but for the state, it’s a story that deserves to be told,” he said.
Lauzon said he doesn’t dispute museum organizers may have “oversold and under-delivered” but argued that could be blamed, at least in part, on a project he believes was “about 15 years ahead of its time.”
With the long-awaited reconstruction of North Main Street almost finished and downtown redevelopment starting to roll, Lauzon said figuring out how the museum fits Barre’s bigger picture can become a priority.
“I think now is the perfect opportunity to start to refocus on the granite museum and say: OK, long term, because this is not a project we’re going to bring to fruition in the next year — it’s going to be a multiyear effort — how can we make this happen?”
Before endorsing any course of action, Lauzon said he wants to see “a reasonable, five-year plan” from the board and is hopeful Thursday night’s forum, which will include some small-group brainstorming sessions, will serve as a foundation for that effort.
“Now is the right time for it,” he said.