Rockwood Can No Longer Function With Small Intimate Groups of Visitors
County Executive Tom Gordon says he’ll need to create programs in order to keep museum afloat.
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Gordon took more time than was expected to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Friends, who were prepared to give the county $100,000 for repairs to the conservatory. Some county council members said the work would be subject to the county’s prevailing wage statute, so it couldn’t be completed without supplementing the Friends’ proposed gift. Several alternate proposals were considered but, in the end, county council rejected the gift by a 7-6 vote. The rejection occurred because local labor unions started raising questions about the prevailing wage issues. (Jobs that are estimated at a certain value require the county to pay workers at the prevailing wage.) To do the job right, in Gordon’s mind, it was going to cost more than $100,000, and again, going above that number meant dealing with more prevailing wage issues. Also, if the job were done on county property, the county would have been responsible for accidents or anything that may have occurred during construction.
The following September, David Grimaldi, Gordon’s chief administrative officer, got into a shouting match with Nancy Schanes, an elderly, longtime Rockwood tour guide and Friends member, when he went into an upstairs room at Rockwood to take photos of water damage in the ceiling. Schanes confronted Grimaldi and told him he was not allowed in the room without a guide present. (Grimaldi declined our request for an interview.) Then, in October, when Schanes signed up for a bus trip with other Rockwood tour guides, an unidentified county official said she couldn’t go. Gordon then ordered that Schanes could make the trip.
At the same time, the county requested that the Friends vacate the upstairs room they had used as an office so it could be given a different historic interpretation. “It was our decision to leave,” Zappa says. “Rockwood is going in a different direction and we’ve outlived our usefulness.”
As the new year begins, the futures of both Rockwood and the Friends are at a crossroads.
Gordon feels that Rockwood can no longer function primarily as a museum that attracts a small number of visitors. Between the mansion and the conservatory, nearly $2 million is needed for repairs, and he says the only way he can secure funding from county council is by developing a plan to bring thousands of visitors to Rockwood.
Gordon isn’t sure what that plan will be, but says it will be a priority for him early this year. “I have to create programs,” he says. “I have to make this building a destination.” (He does not rule out keeping museum activities as part of the picture.) He also wants Rockwood’s open space to become a refuge for city kids seeking a haven from Wilmington’s street crime, like the more than 2,000 city children who spent time at Rockwood last summer under a parks and YMCA program.