The situation is urgent notes the report from the National Park Service (NPS) in a special 75+ page report that makes recommendations about the future of the Sewall-Belmont House in Washington, DC that’s presently owned and operated by the National Woman’s Party (NWP). The historic site is described as “one of the premier women’s history sites in the country.” The feasibility study notes how financial constraints in recent years have “… decreased the capacity of the NWP to preserve and interpret the site and its extensive museum and archival collections, creating the need to explore options for increased National Park Service assistance.”
But all is not lost, the report reveals, even though the NPS admits it is extremely limited in funding. “Since the economic downturn of 2008, the NWP has experienced challenges in raising necessary funds to operate and properly maintain the property. As a consequence, the site is currently only open to the public on a limited basis. The NPS is not currently authorized to provide additional financial assistance to the NWP after surpassing a legislated cap set in 1988, a loss of roughly $100,000 in annual funding.
“A recent condition assessment determined that the house itself is largely in good condition. However, without attending to deferred preservation maintenance needs in the near future, the condition of the structure is likely to deteriorate. Of particular concern is protection of the portion of the NWP collection stored in the library on the first floor of the house; the library is not climate-controlled and lacks a fire-suppression system.”
The study analyzes different management options to address the site’s financial and preservation challenges:
“Model 1, where the NPS takes on the greatest management role and staffing commitment, is projected to cost the bureau $636,000 annually. In contrast, in Model 3 the NWP continues most operations and maintenance with increased NPS financial assistance totaling $312,000 annually. Model 2 presents two variations of an option in which the NPS and the NWP jointly operate the site. This model is probably the most feasible given a balanced distribution of responsibilities between the two entities and the comparably moderate annual cost to the NPS, at $511,000 for Model 2a and $445,000 for Model 2b. These variations, particularly Model 2a, are the preference of the NWP, which sees the responsibilities required of the NWP most in line with its capacity and mission.”
The feasibility study’s report contains photographs, analysis, charts and more information than you could possibility imagine. For those of us who follow women’s history, suffrage centennials and related observances, this is an excellent opportunity to become informed about the challenges and possible solutions, especially as the national women’s suffrage centennial approaches in 2020.
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