July 19, 2021
DHPT and Akin House News
It has been quite some time since you’ve heard from DHPT. With the reopening of Massachusetts, you are probably wondering when we will be welcoming visitors to the Akin House.
The Akin House remains closed to visitors.
It had been our expectation that we would be open to visitors by the summer of 2021. As of July, sadly this is not the case.
As many of you know, the Akin House is a town-owned property which has been leased by DHPT for a number of years; first to save, preserve, and restore it; then, to use it as a cultural heritage center and education facility: for house tours, living history programming, to feature as a witness site to the Revolution, and to celebrate of the Akin family and their contributions to Dartmouth––all done by volunteers for the public benefit.
Since 2008, DHPT has operated as stewards for the property and assumed all responsibilities on behalf of the town to maintain this important cultural resource under the auspices of five-year leases in effect May 2008 and May 2013. Our lease expired in May 2018. At that time, the Select Board instituted new standards and provisions for leases of town-owned properties.
We have been maintaining the property as “tenants-at-will” up until recently when the DHPT board determined that without a renewed lease, we couldn’t continue to operate functionally on the property and ensure the safety of the public.
After being informed by Town counsel that certain provisions in the lease were non-negotiable, DHPT sent a letter to the Dartmouth Select Board on July 15, 2021 with an appeal to continue lease negotiations stating the argument that “one-size-doesn’t-fit all” for leases for town-owned properties. So far, the Town Administrator stated that, in effect, happy to talk to you but we’re not budging.
Excerpt of DHPT’s Letter to the Select Board
“Absent an active lease with the Town, the Dartmouth Heritage Preservation Trust board had no choice but to close the building and property to visitors. The property is being managed and maintained by DHPT through our donated operations funds for lawn and landscape care, to pay for electricity, and for the wireless alarm system. The building’s interior is also being cleaned and maintained and must be kept at a certain temperature to minimize dampness which adversely affects an old house. Why do this volunteer work without a lease? We believe it’s our moral obligation to care for this property––to address and solve any problems that can occur. This historically significant pre-Revolutionary War building must be sustained and our Town’s significant investment must be protected. …
“Our principal concern is the insistence by Town counsel that the Town require unnecessary and expensive insurance for reasons of uniformity and require that we keep the property plowed in wintertime, even though the property is not open to the public in the winter. We have been informed that these items are non-negotiable, and that we may not meet with the relevant town boards to discuss these issues. We believe that, as a long-standing partner with the Select Board working on this project, we are entitled to an audience with the board to be heard on these matters.
“In every single way, DHPT has operated as the stewards of the Akin House since our first lease was executed with the Town in May 2008 and renewed in May 2013. Our lease expired in May 2018 and since then we have made good faith efforts to work with the Town to renew the lease.
“What are the ramifications for DHPT and the Akin property? DHPT cannot apply for grants for programming or more restoration work. Fundraising is difficult when our main reason for being– the Akin House–is closed to the public and we are unable to offer living history programming. We’ve had to inform our members and supporters that without a renewed lease with the Town, we cannot take the risk of hosting visitors on site.
“What are the ramifications for the Town? The Akin House has a Preservation Restriction in perpetuity. As already stated, this property has limited use except as a house museum and as a cultural heritage center and education facility. If not DHPT’s stewardship of this property, then which organization would be willing to take over?
“With so much invested in this property–in public funds through CPA, private donations, and memberships, and with countless volunteer hours expended since 2008–is this really where we want to end up?”
Where Will We End Up?
This property has benefited from public funds and therefore the public has a right to know what’s going on with the Akin House and our lease. Both sides may have legitimate points of view, but not all town-owned properties are alike. To reach an impasse regarding insurance policies, what the town pays and what DHPT buys, and snow plowing our parking area when closed to visitors, only hurts this community. Yes, we and you are entitled to an audience with the Select Board, our duly elected representatives, to be heard on these matters. So we’ll keep trying!