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Financial woes lead to changes at Rochester Historical Society

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Citing a struggle “to maintain financial stability,” the Rochester Historical Society is furloughing staff, suspending programs and drastically cutting day-to-day operations.

Society President Carolyn Vacca said the size of its collections, housed in space on Lincoln Avenue, is financially unsustainable.

“We are in an area of over 8,000 square feet, and that’s extraordinarily expensive even at the best rental rates, and we just need to downsize,” she said. “We just cannot support moving forward with that amount of required square footage.”

Despite numerous efforts to reorganize, economize and seek funding sources, the society doesn’t have the resources to continue operating as it has.

“The size of our collection, which, of course, is part of what makes it so significant, is now financially unsustainable,” Vacca said.

The society on Friday made an announcement on its Facebook page about the changes. Three part-time staff members will be furloughed, Vacca said.

The public can still make an appointment to access the library, and the society said it will maintain phone, email and social media communications.

Vacca said the society is in conversations with the state historian and the state curator about the future of the collections. She said the state recognizes the depth of the society’s collections and remembers the many times the society loaned items to the state museum and state exhibits.

“And so, they feel very strongly that it is vitally important that we work together to maintain the collections intact and not see them dispersed,” Vacca said.

The Rochester Historical Society receives no public funding. It has faced financial woes in the past, but has survived on memberships and private donations.

Vacca said the society gets daily inquiries from people seeking information about the area, and people even occasionally visit its space on Lincoln Avenue.

“Our library alone covers 2,500 square feet of irreplaceable maps, documents, over 22,000 photos,”she said. “You know, it’s an incredible collection.”

Vacca hopes the talks with the state will be productive and that community members will help the society.

“We will try to get public support,” she said. “What we would like to do is finalize some conversations with the state to see exactly what the plan would be, and then to return to the public with an announcement.”

Vacca said the society sent its members a letter about a week and a half ago about the changes. She said as progress continues, they’ll continue to update members and then share information publicly.