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Board set to fast track Historical Society project

 COURTESY PHOTO | Rendering of a proposed additions to the Shelter Island Historical Society Haven’s House, which would include a new building to house a storage vault, classroom and display space.
COURTESY PHOTO | Rendering of  proposed additions to the Shelter Island Historical Society Haven’s House, which would include a new building to house a storage vault, classroom and display space.

The Shelter Island Historical Society’s (SIHS) ambitious $1.7 million building project is expected to receive a special permit by the Town Board May 3 to proceed.

After going though a detailed checklist of concerns at the board’s Tuesday work session, all members agreed the project should move forward.

This was in the wake of a public meeting on the permit at Town Hall packed with SIHS supporters on Friday afternoon, April 22.

The plan includes an addition to Havens House that will provide expanded archive space along with room for exhibits and research.

Builder Chris Fokine said no space for archives has been added in 41 years and since the Historical Society is part of the Museum Association of New York, it has an obligation to maintain standards of proper stewardship of its collection.

Only two people — Joy Bausman in person and Dianne Bowditch by letter — raised questions about the proposed construction.
Ms. Bausman, who noted Havens House is her ancestral home, asked why a project to deal with flooding and drainage had been abandoned. Project engineer David Rose explained that during construction the house would be safe and once work was completed on the addition, both the new structure and Havens House would be protected from the elements.

“That’s the main prize — Havens House,” Mr. Fokine said, explaining that protecting it from flooding and drainage problems is critical.

The only threat to the buildings would be if drainage pumps failed, the builder added. Those would be checked every year to ensure they are working correctly.

SIHS board member and former Fire Chief John D’Amato said when he first assessed fire safety at Haven’s House he found it “kind of scary.” But the Historical Society “has moved to alleviate those concerns,” Mr. D’Amato said. “We’re saving the house. The house is not in jeopardy.”

“This is an object lesson in historical preservation,” SIHS member Sam Lebowitz said. “It improves Havens House.”

What were not addressed during the hearing Friday were questions Ms. Bowditch posed in her letter to the Town Board:
1) Are all the funds in place?
2) Was a loan required and if so, in what amount?
3) Does the Historical Society have the income to sustain and maintain the expansion without needing a loan?

After the hearing, SIHS Executive Director Nanette Breiner-Lawrenson said no loan was ever taken and the funds have been raised for the project.

In other news: At the board’s work session Tuesday, an idea put forward by The Dory’s owner Jack Kiffer for a “Shelter Island Jazz Festival” was briefly considered. Mr. Kiffer has had a series of jazz performances at The Dory for the past three summers, but this year he requested expanding to an outdoor concert at Volunteer Park, tentatively scheduled for Saturday July 23 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Police Chief Jim Read had no strong objections to the idea when it was first introduced at last week’s work session, Supervisor Jim Dougherty said Mr. Kiffer had agreed to purchasing $1 million in liability insurance. Overall, Mr. Dougherty said, the idea “seems to be permissible” and future discussion will take place with Chief Read and other town officials.

Councilman Jim Colligan said that the town’s grant writer, Jennifer Mesiano Higham, has indicated there is no possibility that grant money could be found to move St. Gabriel’s Chapel to a new location. Ms. Mesiano Higham suggested establishing a local landmarks committee to propose structures to state and national registries to recognize their historical importance.