"Mrs. Bement wants to put in new gutters, new paint... there are a whole lot of things that need to be done to that building," French said. "My own opinion is that the best thing to do is tear it down and start over. It's in pretty sorry shape."
The current building was constructed in 2005 when then Councilman Doug McEver secured a grant for town records retention. It was erected on a concrete slab by a combination of professional builders and volunteers. McEver and then Code Enforcement Officer Dick Platt did a lot of the work themselves. French says McEver was warned against building a wooden building to store historical records.
"One day the truck drove in and we didn't really know what was happening," said Bookkeeper/Personnel Officer Sharon Bowman. "A pile of boards showed up. It wasn't approved until after the materials arrived."
Town Historian Louise Bement uses the building to maintain records that go back to the 1700s. Before it was erected in 2005 the town records were spread out between the enclosed front porch of her home, in a Morton building behind her house, and a mini-storage unit near the Lansing Post Office. The building has a large room where most of the material is stored, with work tables for sorting and cataloging. Official town documents are stored in the attic, except for current documents in the Town Clerk's safe. It allowed Bement to consolidate the town's history in one space, including a room that was meant to safely hold delicate records in a controlled atmosphere.
But water was never hooked up to the building, and the heat is only turned on if someone is coming there. French says that at one point rain water ran inside the building, though no records were lost. The Lansing Historical Association meets there and Bement meets individuals by appointment. She is frequently contacted by people from in and out of town who ask her help in finding information about their families. The collection includes documents and letters, diaries, photographs, clothing and other objects.
Councilwoman Ruth Hopkins advocated scanning the historical documents to make them available online. Tompkins County has secured grants for the municipalities to scan their official documents and store them at the data facility at Seneca Depot. The county has completed its own scans, and Lansing is slated to have official town documents scanned soon.
Other board members said viewing scans of the historical documents wouldn't be the same, because people come to Bement for the hands-on experience of seeing the originals when they visit from out of town to learn about their family history, or when local residents want to see them. Some agreed it might be worth pursuing a grant to scan them so there will be a record of them if they eventually deteriorate.
Councilman Ed LaVigne noted there is substantial damage due to poor design of a building that wasn't ideal for records storage in the first place. There is no running water there and no bathroom. One window is rotted. The eaves have no extension, so water runs down the front of the building. The building has been painted three times since 2005 but needs to be painted again now. It needs a new roof and gutters to catch rain. He noted that a new building could probably be erected for less than $20,000 if Highway Department employees build it, which French said he would like to see happen.
LaVigne suggested a new building could include a museum space to be opened on special occasions as the Field One-Room School House is. Recently Bement and Fannie Welsh have mounted three exhibits since last August and are planning more. In August they displayed historical clothing at the town library that included a wedding dress worn in an 1899 Lansing wedding. In November an exhibit on Lansing politics and elections was mounted at the Town Hall. In February an exhibit in the library documented 19th century social dances in the town.
"It could be records storage and a museum," said Supervisor Kathy Miller. "We need to think about this. Could we combine the two?"
Bowman said whatever is done should fit the style of the other buildings in the town center. French said that a proper records storage building should be made of stone or brick.
"We don't want to put up another building made out of wood that's not going to have the appropriate protection for the documents," said Councilwoman Katrina Binkewicz. "I just want to make sure that if we're going to make a preservation space that it's going to serve the purpose."
The board agreed to consider the problem further, and to consult Bement before deciding on a solution.