SOUTH PORTLAND (AP) – Two years ago, the Museum of Glass & Ceramics in Sebago bought a former World War II-era armory that it planned to convert into its new home.

But today, the building at the foot of the Casco Bay Bridge sits empty and unrenovated, with a front window pane broken and peeling paint and electrical wiring hanging off a hallway ceiling. When the museum will open is anyone’s guess.

Fueling the uncertainty are questions about whether the museum has raised enough money for the project and a dispute over ownership of roughly 7,000 items, or more than half the total in the massive glass collection that dates to the 1st century B.C.

Former Maine resident and philanthropist Joan Burns of Littleton, Colo., has emerged as a prominent supporter of the museum. But observers in the art community wonder whether the museum can broaden its donor base because of the highly specialized medium and legal troubles with glass collector Dorothy Lee Jones, the museum’s elderly founder.

Jones filed suit in spring 2002 in Cumberland County Superior Court, demanding the return of the items in dispute and access to the museum in Sebago, which she had founded on family property.

Since a trial referee allowed Jones back into the museum in 2003, the lawsuit has not progressed much. Jones’ attorney, Jim Erwin, said the case might move from the discovery phase to more aggressive fact-finding through depositions if a resolution cannot be reached soon.

John Holverson, the museum’s director, and Lynn Coburn, president of the board of directors, did not return calls for comment.

City Manager Jeff Jordan says he has not talked to Holverson in more than a year, but maintains his hope that the museum will one day become a city landmark.

“The end of the Casco Bay Bridge is an important gateway to the city, so we’re hoping that they design and maintain a first-class-looking facility,” Jordan said.

A 2002 mortgage deed referring to a possible construction loan of up to $3.5 million from Fleet National Bank hints at the scope of the project.

Jordan said the museum has met all the terms of its agreements with the city. To keep the site plan from lapsing, crews in October performed utility work and made improvements to the parking lot.

More recently, the city decided that the museum passed the test for a charitable and benevolent organization and granted it immunity from property taxes. By a vote of 5-2, the Board of Assessment Review last week overrode the city assessor’s determination that the museum did not qualify for tax-exemption because it had not occupied its building yet.

The museum is already exempt from income taxes as a federally designated nonprofit. But the board’s decision will save the museum thousands of dollars. “This is very good news for us,” said the museum’s attorney, Bob Danielson.

Information from: Portland Press Herald,

AP-ES-02-01-05 0933EST

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