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Public Meeting Minutes, April 14, 2009

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Public Meeting Minutes, April 14, 2009

Public Meeting
Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC)
Washington Crossing Historic Park
Tuesday, April 14, 2009, 7:20 PM

Jerry Lepping, Executive Director of the Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau, opened the meeting and explained that those visitors who expressed an interest in speaking would be called upon by name. He asked each individual to keep their remarks to 3 minutes.

State Representative Scott Petri made the following remarks:

  • Lend your tongues — what do you think?
  • He loves this spot and believes it is a national treasure worthy of our thoughts, time, talent and money.
  • What do the neighbors think the commission should be doing? They probably have a lot of fond memories of the Park, but it's not so much about the building as it is about the site.
  • The goal has not yet been accomplished of restoring the site back to the jewel that it is but improvements have been made. We need to walk out with a Friends Group that is very large and active.
  • There will never be enough money to take care of the buildings and property — at least $7.5 million is needed just to get all the structures up-to-date.
  • The 2026 Foundation (year 2026 marks the 250th crossing) believes it will take until the year 2026 to have the Park at the place it should be.

Representative Steve Santarsiero made the following remarks:

  • He represents the district south of the Park but given the proximity, this issue is near and dear to his heart.
  • He wants to help and is part of Congressman Murphy's Task Force.
  • He thanked the PHMC for coming out and giving the public an opportunity to weigh in.
  • He has no firm opinion on the best course of action but believes the Visitor Center should not be closed. Possible scenarios to think about could be a non-profit running part of the Park or having the National Park Service (NPS) take over like at Valley Forge.
  • It is important to have a dialogue with the public before any decisions are made and wants the heritage of the area reflected.

Jerry Lepping introduced the individuals representing the PHMC: Wayne Spilove, Chairman of the PHMC; Barbara Franco, Executive Director of the PHMC; and Steve Miller, Bureau Director of Historic Sites and Museums.

Wayne Spilove, Chairman of the PHMC, made the following remarks:

  • It was necessary to look at all PHMC sites for possible closing due to the lack of funds. This was discussed at the March meeting. All were in agreement that Washington Crossing Historic Park should stay open.
  • He is working with the legislature to see that all the public's concerns are addressed.

Barbara Franco, Executive Director of the PHMC, made the following remarks:

  • Washington Crossing Historic Park is one of the most important state sites and will not be closed in any shape, way or form.
  • The auditorium had to be closed because of asbestos and this was Phase 1 of a major renovation project.
  • Since she has been in her current position, Washington Crossing Historic Park has been at the top of the list for needing a new Visitor Center. There should be a Visitor Center that says how important this place is.
  • We are now nearing a point where the Visitor Center building needs to be closed. The AC system may not work this season and with the combination of the leaky roof, the Visitor Center may close down to the public. This is a positive thing and means we are moving forward to begin renovations.
  • She wants to work with the community to make this happen. The importance of community is not to be underestimated. Part of the sustainability study stressed the need for a deep, good relationship with the community. Strong support is needed to move forward.
  • The PHMC is here to listen in the spirit of partnership.

Steve Miller, Bureau Director of Historic Sites and Museums, made the following remarks:

  • He thanked everyone for coming out and making it a priority.
  • The Sustainability Study (done over a 12-13 month period) report that came out on February 4 expressed that the PHMC did not have the funds to operate its current 22 sites and 18 placed properties. This was right before the Governor reduced the budget even further.
  • Washington Crossing Historic Park was never considered for any type of closing; it is too important. The only issue is the building and how we're going to deal with it.

Jerry Lepping introduced the community input portion of the meeting and again asked the public to keep their comments to 3 minutes. The following is a summary of who spoke and what was expressed.

Ellen Petri of New Hope, PA

  • On March 18, the day the PHMC held their meeting, a rally was held at the Park. She presented a petition to Chairman Spilove titled "Fix It Now, Fix It Right, Fix It Without Delay."

Larry Rubini of Newtown, PA, veteran of Iraq and Gulf Wars

  • He talked about the military history of the site and about the very first defenders.
  • The deterioration of the Park didn't happen overnight. This is decades of neglect over, not just hard times, but prosperous ones, too. He will not cut the PHMC any slack for seeking to close the Park due to bad times.
  • There is no reason to treat the first defenders of the nation this way.
  • He believes that the Park was never a priority as the money always went elsewhere; that there is no vision for this Park; that there is no appreciation or the Park would be the crown jewel, not just talked about as the crown jewel; that the volunteers are never appreciated; and that the locals were never allowed to be involved.
  • He thinks that we should start somewhere else, whether it be with the Federal Government or with a non-profit, but it's not with the PHMC.

Dr. Joseph Majdan of New Hope, PA — Bucks County resident for 50+ years, Major in U.S. Army, past President of Washington Crossing Reenactors Society

  • He shares Rubini's opinions.
  • He believes that Rep. Petri has "talked the talk and walked the walk".
  • He thinks that the PHMC representatives are arrogant and elitist in saying that they will work with the community. He believes they will not listen.
  • This place was left to ruin and it did not happen overnight. He questioned the State's competency. When Anne Hawkes Hutton was here, things ran well.
  • Perhaps the site would be better run by a private group. He asked "Where is the plan? Why is it always tomorrow?"

Gregory Urwin of Doylestown, PA — professor of military history at Temple University

  • He expressed the need for something to interpret this site and the story. It inspired a Pulitzer Prize winning book and President Obama has mentioned its importance as inspiration in hard times. The blueprint was engineered here and it needs interpretation. It is currently an empty shell.
  • He is willing to donate his time and services — he wants to set a goal and get going.

Scott Randolph of Southampton, PA

  • When you think of the three most important historical sites of Pennsylvania — Independence Hall, Valley Forge and Washington Crossing — come to mind. This site has International importance.
  • Where did the money go if funds were set aside? Was the money used for something else? The plans need to have transparency.
  • There was $7 million given for the American Revolution Museum in Valley Forge. Where did the Governor come up with this money? That would be enough money to fix WCHP's Visitor Center.

Steve Miller responded to some of the public's questions:

  • The money is not gone. We are in the design process and we understand the frustration that is expressed. When capital money is released, there is a process with the Department of General Services (DGS) that must be followed by law. There is a bidding process and a design process so the building is constructed with due to respect to the taxpayers. This way everything is done in an equal and legal way. It is possible to add money to make the building better. The $4.5 million is still there and the project is on an accelerated level.
  • The bid package should be out by late September or early October, but if it's not, it doesn't mean that the PHMC didn't try. There are a lot of people involved in the process and that's the way it is by law. For example, there are public notices that need to go out for zoning hearings and the engineering drawings need to be reviewed. This has been ongoing for the past couple of years and we hit a brick wall when the money allocated did not match the design.

Jeff Morgan of Pt. Pleasant, PA — former Park employee

  • He asked for the Commission's response on parts of the park being sold off.
  • The soldiers' graves here are the very first grave sites for Revolutionary War soldiers.
  • He knows we have the resources and the brains and thinks we should look forward from this point.

Bob Gerenser of New Hope, PA — one of the reenactors out on Christmas Day

  • The idea that this is a shell in need of interpretation sits badly with him. 300 reenactors come out on Christmas Day for 12,000 people to watch what happened here.
  • Rumors fly but he has seen a pattern of neglect in the Park. He agrees that the project needs to have transparency so the public can be part of the process.
  • Put out the call (like Washington did) and people will help. What is the public willing to do? How far is the public willing to go? The volunteers are here but there has been poor coordination and a squandering of resources.
  • He believes it is a bad idea to go Federal. The public does not know the burdens that the Commission carries. Show us so the public can help.
  • He does not want the other PHMC sites to suffer because attention is focused here. He wants Bucks County to pave the way for support.

Dan Worden of New Hope, PA — Vice-Chairmen of the Upper Makefield Township Board of Supervisors

  • He wants to keep the Visitor Center open and has been writing letters to the necessary politicians.
  • There have been zoning issues that have come up but in project management, there are provisions for a "Quick Fix". He believes that the AC units and roof should be saved and then we can move forward with alternative plans for the management of the grounds.
  • The Board of Supervisors is unanimous that it is time to do something.

Doug Oberreit of Yardley, PA — representing the Washington Crossing Chapter of the SAR

  • In 2000, there was an orientation meeting at the Park for individuals interested in volunteering. He was on the Board of the Washington Crossing Reenactors Society and in August 2007, the 501c3 was dissolved. There were issues on both sides and it was in the best interest of the Park to disband the Friends Group.
  • The Park needs a Friends Group like the one at Graeme Park where they make history come alive. That's what he hopes can happen here. He can see a Friends Group being valuable now where it wasn't a few years ago.
  • It's not just about the past but it's about today — how the Park is being used for recreational events.
  • He volunteers at Park events and he has such joy interacting with the visitors and loves the teaching opportunity. Having the Visitor Center facility is so important.

Robert Gorring of Washington Crossing, PA — former Chairman of the Upper Makefield Township Zoning Board

  • The PHMC came to the township 5 years ago with $4.2 million and wanted to go forward with the Visitor Center renovation project. They asked the zoning board to fast track the variances and the zoning board did everything possible to accommodate them. Then things came to a halt and the PHMC asked for a hiatus after the zoning board had pulled out all the stops. He never heard anything after that for years.
  • He agrees with Mr. Worden that the roof needs to be fixed so the Visitor Center won't shut down. This should only cost about $1 million.
  • He believes that the majority of Upper Makefield residents are opposed to converting the Park to NPS.
  • He thinks that there should be an investigation into why there are constant engineering studies done about the same thing and there also should be an investigation as to why the costs keep going up. Why was an architectural firm from Philadelphia selected and not a local outfit?
  • If Federal funding is desired, we should get some from the stimulus package.

Michael Etzrodt of Newtown, PA — President of the Board of Directors for BCCVB

  • The explanation of rules, regulations and studies is all hot air. No one is willing to take the blame and if it were anywhere else, everyone would have been fired by now. Since they can't be, they should resign.
  • The Park has not been maintained. The elected Representative should have made sure the Commission was doing its job. Rendell is not taking care of this site.
  • Anne Hawkes Hutton would not have let this happen. Her whole life revolved around this site. The bureaucrats are not getting anything done and charge twice as much.
  • If the site closes, it would be a national disgrace.

Tom Kegelman — Bucks County resident

  • What is the value of this meeting? What are the action steps? What is going to happen as a result?

Wayne Spilove responded to some of the public's comments:

  • The Commission members are appointed and are citizens just like you. They are just as upset. He is a businessman and the Governor offered him the position of Chairman in 2005. At that time, there were 450,000 volunteer hours logged. That makes this system work. He, Barbara and Steve will report back to the Commission to push DGS and ask them to fast track this project. Hopefully this meeting will spur the start of a new Friends Group. The DGS process is inherited and every one of the 22 sites has to deal with it.

Male Audience Member called on by Spilove — no name given

  • Where in the process is the project? The citizens need to know where the problem is/what the hold up is so the people can exercise their political muscle. Who do they address their concerns to? Give the facts as dirty as they may be.

Steve Miller responded to some of the public's questions:

  • This is a low-bid process, required by law, and that is why an architectural firm from Philadelphia was chosen. They offered the lowest price.
  • We are in the preliminary sketch state. We got to the end of the entire process several years ago but the design we had was no longer achievable because of the time it took.
  • The contractor temporary leases the site during construction for liability reasons. This is cost saving step.

Representative Petri responded to some of the public's questions:

  • He is also on the Appropriations Committee. The budget for the PHMC is continually being slashed every year in good times and bad. The Keystone Fund, which is supposed to be set aside for the maintenance of these historic sites, comes from real estate tax. One year, this money was taken and put in the General Fund. Even the environmentalists stepped away from it since it was a trade-off. Right now, there is no real estate transfer tax money coming in. How we fund these facilities is inappropriate.
  • Where are we going?
    1. We can cut back the project by $1.4 million, go through the redesign process, etc. but he is skeptical that it can be cut and still do the site justice.
    2. We need an additional $1.4 million. Congressman Murphy does not have control of the Federal stimulus money. We cannot direct Federal money to a state facility without earmarks. It is possible that the Governor could take money out of his stabilization fund for this.
    3. The roof issues are tied in with the ventilation system. It does not pitch correctly — it was a bad design from the 1970s.
  • Each time the design is reconfigured, the money is no longer enough. We hear it time and time again.
  • We should be embarrassed if we can't find $1.4 million.

Frank Loprest of Holland, PA

  • He talked about the site's history and its importance. He believes the NPS does a beautiful job with its sites and thinks the NPS should take over and do this place justice.

Maureen Ferrazzi of Washington Crossing, PA

  • Because of the site's status as a National Registered Landmark, the NPS should contribute a portion of the money needed.

Jerry Kouveras of Washington Crossing, PA

  • He will still visit the site regardless of its condition. He is embarrassed that nothing has been done but he will still come. He doesn't think that the facility should be closed just because of these factors. Wait until the plans are perfect and there is enough money.
  • NPS sites do look better than this place. There should be no conversation of closing until a timeline is laid out.

Steve Stavish of Newtown, PA

  • Everyone is missing the fact that history occurred here.
  • Why can't this group accomplish anything? He does respect them because they're here.
  • It is almost impossible to visit the grave site — it is not kept and it is disgraceful. He suggested that volunteers come out to help clean up the area Saturday at 10 AM.
  • He wants a concise plan with dates and he wants names of the people blocking the plans so the public can go after them.

Carter van Dyke of Doylestown, PA — landscape planner and architect

  • There is no momentum. He loves the political process — sometimes we do it well and sometimes not as good as other times.
  • He likes the concept of "2026". It's about motivating people, not just about the roof.
  • People in Bucks County can make donations happen. There is a different administration here to help the people.

Peggy Kennedy of Washington Crossing, PA — Crossing Legacy Foundation

  • There was an article in the Courier Times on October 29, 1998 stating that the poor condition of the Park was created by the rift between the PHMC and the Foundation. In two years, the money was supposed to be released for improvements.
  • Mike McHugh did a phenomenal job while he was here and he did not get the respect he deserved.

David Christian

  • He believes that there should be a just reward for a good job and a just reward for a bad job. The Commission is hog-tied and can't handle the situation. There are non-profit organizations that could take over and raise all of the money needed to take care of the Park. Leadership is needed.
  • He wants the Park and the money turned over to a non-profit.

Female Audience Member — no name given

  • She saw the designs 1 year ago and they seemed elaborate and extravagant. It is time to pull back on these designs.
  • All movements should be publicly posted as to what the plans are for this community.

Dan Rattigan of Newtown, PA — Chairman of the Upper Makefield Township Board of Supervisors

  • He has watched the Park deteriorate and this system is not working. It is not just about the building. The State cannot handle the responsibility. A combined effort with volunteers is necessary.
  • The decision was made to form a Task Force including representatives from local, county state levels.
  • The PHMC representatives do not have the answers. It is not their fault. Come to the UMT Supervisors meetings. Call your State Representatives, Congressmen and County Officials.
  • We don't want a quick fix. We want a true fix and with Government, this will take more than one day. Contact your elected officials and voice your opinion.
  • The current system is broken.

Barbara Franco closed the meeting with the following remarks:

  • They were directed by the Commission to listen and have a public meeting. Whether a site is State-owned or run by the NPS, the amount of money for these kinds of operations is not increasing. There is half the number of employees. Your tax money is no longer going to support these parks. If the site is operated by a non-profit organization, the first thing they will do is go to their State Representative looking for money.
  • We need to be looking at partnerships. There is a lot of past to this site and animosity but pointing fingers does not get us anywhere. We need to figure out how to work together.
  • How do we work together? Whether it be a Friends Group or with the 2026 Foundation, it needs to be a partnership. We will take advantage of the offers to help.
  • The staff at WCHP works incredibly hard and are trying to do the best they can with the resources they have.

The meeting was adjourned at 9:30 PM.

Respectfully submitted,
Meg Scott
Clerk/Typist 3
Washington Crossing Historic Park