Opinion: University has many questions still to answer on Ward Museum


I am writing to express my concern and that of many fellow Eastern Shoremen.

The Ward Foundation and Museum of Wildfowl Art are a treasured asset to almost all Eastern Shore citizens and many others as well.

The precious collection of wildfowl art was gifted to Salisbury University in 2000 by those who held those treasures dear, as a means to preserve and perpetuate this gem forever into the future.

Something seems to be going wrong with that grand plan and trusteeship and we are not quite sure what.

What is known is that those who have been entrusted with this huge community asset have told us it began with a “catastrophic failure” of the HVAC system which maintains temperature and humidity in the museum.

Subsequently, rather than repair or replace the failed equipment promptly it was apparently left in place and the museum was closed leading to predictable excess humidity and temperatures, which caused mold and mildew to grow everywhere including on the invaluable collection.

This leads to many questions so far unanswered by those responsible for the museum and its care: 

  • Chances are the HVAC system is not made up of only one a/c unit but multiple units and zones.
  • It is unlikely all failed at the same time.
  • Why was the failed unit or units not replaced immediately?
  • If the same thing happened to a building on campus would it just be shut down and locked up and nothing done and no funds found to correct the issue?
  • HVAC systems like roofs or other building components have limited lifespans and must be maintained and eventually replaced. Did/does the University have a plan in place to do this? If not, why not?
  • There are many other buildings on campus much older than the Ward Museum.  Aren’t plans made to handle these eventualities?
  • Why isn’t there a similar plan for the Ward Museum?
  • Word on the street is that Museum Board members have been instructed not to talk about this. Is this true?
  • If not for the Museum, what are the future plans for the building?

 The suggestion that the museum is near the end of its expected life span at 30 years is absurd. If that is true the Louvre Museum in Paris should have been vacated over 200 years ago. How can a 2,000-square-foot space in Downtown Salisbury be more suitable than a 40,000-plus-square-foot building built specifically to be a museum?

How can it not make more sense to correct the issues and keep the museum where it is?

A move to another building Downtown will not be free. Can’t those dollars be applied to fixing the building already mostly debt free rather than paying rent Downtown?

It is unlikely that if the museum was vacated the building would be left locked and empty. So, what would it be used for?

Whatever those future plans may be, surely it will require a very large expenditure to repurpose the building, certainly a lot more money than making the needed updates to continue its’ use as a museum.

Many Eastern Shore families and others have contributed their time, efforts and money to the establishment, growth and improvements as well as additions to the Ward Museum building and displays.

I know many of them. They are not happy with what is or is not going on and question the forthrightness with which these matters have been handled.

Some feel many of the Ward Foundation Board members appointed by the University may not have an adequate appreciation for Eastern Shore history, tradition and values.

It's time all the cards (information) be put on the table, face up.

  • Exactly what happened?
  • Why has the building sat locked up for so long?
  • Why wasn’t the issue confronted immediately?
  • What is “plan B” for the museum building?
  • Does the university want this building for another use or sale?

To be fair to the officers, President Carolyn Lepre and Vice President Karen Olmstead, who are responsible for these decisions at Salisbury University, were not here when William Merwin was SU President.

That is when this museum and its precious art collections were given to the university – assets now valued near $10 million.

They obviously don’t know or appreciate the trust and moral if not legal obligation the foundation ceded to them along with this huge gift which they acquired for $1.

How could they? I doubt there is anyone in the cabinet still here who could tell them. But it’s not too late to learn.

This is a huge part of what the Eastern Shore and its people are about. It is unique to us and it has been entrusted to Salisbury University for safe keeping.

Along with that come obligations to maintain and preserve it, not deplete it, not downgrade it and certainly not sell or convert it.

Let me be clear: Salisbury University has a special place in my heart. I started first grade here in 1947 with Miss Brady and finished sixth grade with Miss Pauline Riall in 1954. I knew and still remember Drs. Blackwell, Caruthers, Fleming,. May and others. I have many good memories and experiences with SU.

I have always been supportive of the university. l look forward to that continuing and to a happy ending to this situation with the Ward Museum remaining in its present location.

Richard C. Insley Jr.


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