By Brian Durham
Yes, the Museum is closed, the steam engine drained, and the cars in storage for the winter. But that does not mean no one is working or that nothing is going on.
Here is what happens in a museum that is closed for the winter: planning, organizing and training. In fact, many of us like the winter months best because we can focus on planning and organizing for the year ahead. It is hard to plan when you are running trains seven days a week or putting on a special event like Polar Express.
In June you may pick up a tourist magazine and see an ad for the museum. That ad was placed in January or February based upon our operating schedule set in the first week of January. Special events are put on the calendar and detailed planning starts.
In May we will have a new exhibit explaining who, what, when, where and why of the Maine two foot narrow gauge railroads. That planning started in 2010, and included a
successful grant application to fund part of the exhibit. We are now at the stage of final edits of text, photos and maps so they can go to the printers.
January is the time to review the past year and Polar Express to capture lessons learned, and revise our marketing and operational plans while the experience is still fresh in our minds.
The railroad managers have gotten together with the museum director and agreed our focus must be on the visitor experience and customer service. This requires standardization of procedures, and training of everyone involved. We will revise and simplify our operating rules, develop a passenger train standard operating procedure, and provide useful training to train crews before we start seven day a week operations in May.
The museum director, archivist and education director are taking a hard look at the museum space and the room freed up with Pondicherry moved out of the building. The question is how best to use our museum space to create a family friendly environment
that provides an entertaining educational experience to our guests. The museum is still a mild disaster after Polar Express. It has to be cleaned up, painted and restored to order before the February school vacation week.
Sandy River Combine 14 is looking old and tired after years of birthday parties. The restoration team is redoing the interior and benches. We are also putting together a marketing plan to sell more birthday parties at the museum.
Since winter means no outside painting, we are looking around inside for painting and lettering projects. A large sign will be place behind and above the ticket counter to hide the electrical boxes and help our patrons. We are also going to re-letter the Mount
Pleasant, which includes sanding down for a smooth surface and re-painting. The Portland History Docents program starts in February and we are putting together our course materials. We get between 5 and 12 new volunteers with docent training through this program every year. This year we will tell the class we are really want all of them to come to us and qualify as conductors.
January is also annual budget season. Our museum director, treasurer, president and
vice-president have put together a draft budget that will go to the board for approval this month. We have also revised our accounting codes to better match expenses to programs and departments.
The beginning of the year is also the time we heavily research grant opportunities and deadlines to make sure we take advantage of every grant opportunity. There is often
some back and forth between planning and grant writing. We may have to modify our planned activities to fit the criteria of certain grants.
We are also designing a vibrant and entertaining program for school group tours. We may use grant funding to hire a consultant to write the program, and then vigorously market that program to schools in the area. At the earliest, this program would be in place this fall.