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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Since museum’s exit, Camp Chris Stone moves into Bordeaux Cottage for the summer season

After almost two months of controversy following the termination of the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History’s lease at the Bordeaux Cottage, a children’s camp announced it will use the space for the upcoming summer season. (Courtesy Port City Daily/Shea Carver)

WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH — After almost two months of controversy following the termination of the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History’s lease at the Bordeaux Cottage, a children’s camp announced it will use the space for the upcoming summer season.

READ MORE: After moving out, WB Museum Bordeaux lease back on table

ALSO: WB museum board president concerned about expired Myers Cottage lease after Bordeaux Cottage expulsion

On Friday, the Town of Wrightsville Beach agreed to allow Camp Chris Stone to host its summer camp on the bottom floor of the Ewing-Bordeaux Cottage, a historical property owned by the town. 

Camp Chris Stone provides its enrollees with interactive educational experiences on marine life, marshes, and wetlands. It functioned as a program of the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History from 2015 until December 2023, when the museum’s board decided to end the relationship. 

In February, Camp Chris Stone director Rhesa Stone requested the town’s assistance to find a new spot for the camp. Weeks later, Wrightsville Beach Board of Alderman member Hank Miller and town manager Tony Wilson met with museum president Jan Brewington and museum board member Virginia Colantuono to discuss the museum’s Bordeaux lease. 

Brewington told PCD the meeting consisted entirely of discussion about the camp and how the museum could continue to host it at Bordeaux; the town maintains the conversation involved other aspects of the lease agreement.

Following the meeting, Brewington sent an email to the town confirming the museum’s board maintained its decision to refuse hosting the camp at Bordeaux. She listed  concerns leading the museum to end the relationship, including:

  • Inadequate insurance to take children off-site, into the marsh, interacting with animals
  • The Camp’s ratio of children to adults
  • Lack of lifeguards taking children into the marsh
  • Lack of training by camp counselors in sexual abuse and exploitation prevention practices.

Stone told Port City Daily Monday the museum had not informed her of these concerns before sending an email notification that their partnership would end Dec. 13. There hasn’t been discussion since, except for an email from Brewington requesting Stone to remove the museum’s name from the camp website in January. 

She addressed the museum concerns with PCD, noting the camp acquired insurance with Wilmington-based firm George Chadwick Insurance in 2023. From 2015-2022, the camp’s insurance was procured by the museum.

Stone said the camp has maintained a ratio of one counselor for every five children in accordance with state guidelines. She added children are required to wear personal floatation devices and are only taken into the marsh during low tide.

Stone and her family’s longtime friend Steve Johnston, who helped found the camp, said counselors abide by strict guidelines to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation. They noted the camp’s head counselor is a teacher whose state certification requires training in abuse prevention.

Stone said she wanted to refrain from making a public comment on the issue until securing a location for the camp. She did not want to further inflame the tense social media atmosphere that followed the museum’s expulsion from Bordeaux in March, but felt it was important to defend the reputation of the camp, which is named after her husband Chris Stone, who passed away in 2014.

“Some of it was not super nice,” she said. “And so I removed myself from looking at anything on social media.”

Brewington told PCD the camp’s answers to the museum board’s concerns wouldn’t be sufficient to renew a relationship because the museum updated its insurance policy this year, which prohibits working with adventure camps. She said the museum also terminated the relationship for programmatic reasons because the camp’s occupancy of the lower floor limited it’s activities.

She said concerns surfaced as the museum carried out an audit in September to determine if the camp had a dedicated financial account in response to a request for reimbursement by Stone. 

In 2016, the museum’s former treasurer Jan Wessell sent an email to Stone stating the board had approved a $7,295 restricted fund for the camp. Brewington told PCD she hadn’t been notified of the email, but the museum didn’t find a separate account related to the camp in its audit.

The camp was once hosted outside the Myers Cottage — also owned by the town and leased to the museum, neighboring Bordeaux on West Salisbury Street. The camp relocated  to Bordeaux Cottage in 2019. The museum had exhibits at both cottages before the town sent a notice of the lease termination on March 22, which ordered the museum to vacate the premises by March 31. Both month-to-month leases expired in 2021.

The museum moved out of the building a week after receiving a notice of lease termination, although Wilson told Brewington last month the property was available for a new lease agreement. Port City Daily reached out to the town to ask if Bordeaux’s space is still available to the museum but did not receive a response by press.

Brewington said the museum’s current priority is securing the Myers Cottage lease, noting the museum could not fit all of its artifacts into it; it’s storing historical material at UNCW and a storage unit. She noted the museum has found issues in need of repair at the Myers building, including the handicap accessible ramp.

“This building belongs to the town,” she said. “But we have always kept it up and we have always paid the insurance and all the utilities. And now when we renegotiate the next lease we’re wondering how much responsibility they’re willing to take for the upkeep of the building.”

The museum board president added she has no ill will toward Camp Chris Stone, but remains frustrated at the town and believes the museum was improperly removed from Bordeaux on the camp’s behalf. 

Stone told PCD she did not request the town remove the museum from Bordeaux and remains open to communication.


Tips or comments? Email journalist Peter Castagno at peter@localdailymedia.com.

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