BALLSTON SPA — The Brookside Museum in Ballston Spa, home of the Saratoga County Historical Society, is in danger of closing if the society can’t raise $50,000 by the end of this year and a similar amount next year, museum officials said.
A campaign to “Save Brookside” has already been started, seeking to raise the $50,000 in the next few weeks.
The historical society is facing a significant shortfall in its $150,000 budget, the largest part of which goes to maintaining the building, which houses a collection of historical artifacts and displays and hosts temporary exhibits. The most recent exhibit was on the role of domestic chickens in the county’s historic economy. It also hosts children’s programs.
The museum has struggled to make ends meet for years, but facing what one board member called an “immediate crisis” the museum board has discussed closing the museum, dispersing the collection and selling the property, but only as a last resort.
“Some form of closure or something is possible, we don’t know yet,” said museum Executive Director Michelle Arthur. “Whatever it is, we want to keep the [historical artifact] collection accessible to the public, but we are in dire straights.”
Museum officials held an emergency meeting at the museum Monday night attended by about three dozen supporters from across the county, and Arthur on Tuesday called it “a very positive and successful meeting.”
The museum is located at the corner of Charlton Street and Fairground Avenue in one of the oldest and stateliest buildings in Ballston Spa.
Built as a resort hotel in 1792, the Greek-columned white building was used as a school, private residence and boarding house during the late 19th century, and was converted into apartments in the 1950s. It was vacated in 1968 and purchased by the Saratoga County Historical Society in 1971.
“Everyone on the board wants Brookside to succeed,” said Arthur, the society’s only full-time employee. “The board does not want to shut this down, we have been really backed into a corner. We are looking for and working to find a solution, but it will take the entire community.”
About half the historical society’s revenue comes from fundraising, about 20 percent from fees for its programs (some paid by local school districts), 10 percent from membership, and only about 3 percent from municipal contributions, Arthur said.
Ballston Spa Mayor Larry Woolbright, who attended Monday night’s meeting, said the village isn’t in a position to provide significant financial support to the museum, but it would be a major blow if the museum had to close.
“I think it would be a huge loss for the village. Brookside is an institution,” Woolbright said. “It is a resource for the community, and I think the outpouring we have seen so far shows that.”
Museum officials also met Monday with the town supervisors of Ballston and Milton, the two closest towns to the museum.
Milton Supervisor Scott Ostrander said the town is ready to provide some financial support, but be believes Saratoga County government also needs to play a role.
The county government at one time contributed $10,000 per year to the museum, but eliminated that funding along with the funding for all the non-profit organizations it once supported during a county budget crisis in 2012, and has never restored it.
“My honest opinion is that Brookside’s programs benefit the entire county, and the county should contribute in some way,” said Ostrander, who said he will push for some county role in funding the organization. Ostrander has some influence as a member of the county Board of Supervisors’ Law and Finance Committee, which oversees preparation of the county budget each year and oversees county spending.
Arthur said the historical society needs to raise $50,000 this year, and the same amount in 2020. “We need another $50,000 for next year as we develop a new business and strategic plan going into the future,” she said.
“Right now we are working with everyone,” Arthur said. “This is a community space, it is an important space, and it is something the entire community has to be committed to.”
“This has actually been building for many years. This is not a sudden thing. People express their love of Brookside, but unfortunately there has not been a lot of financial support in the past, and we really need that financial support.”