Big changes are afoot for the museum in Haines. Last month, it was the announcement of the name change to the Haines Sheldon Museum. This month, plans for a massive expansion and renovation project were unveiled.
The expansion would add 3,000 square feet of space to the multi-level museum. To give you an idea of what that expanse entails, the current building is 7,000 square feet. More exhibit space, more storage for sensitive displays, and windows across the entire front of the building are in the plans. Of course, the project is in its infancy, but preliminary designs were outlined to the museum’s board of trustees on Wednesday.
Paul Voelckers is the president of MRV architects out of Juneau, the firm hired to draw up the design. He gave the trustees a brief overview of the additions.
“This is at least a reasonable concept diagram of what might happen and now you’re going to have to start the harder steps of (asking) ‘Is this the right scale of work that we need to do?’ and ‘How do we find the money?’ and ‘How do we move forward?’” he says. “But this becomes the first of the key design steps.”
Among the expanded areas aimed at showcasing more artifacts and artwork, the makeover will include an elevator that spans all five floors of the building, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms and better overall access into the building for people with disabilities.
“But that basic goal of just trying to make practical stuff, like getting in and out of the building legal and gracious, has then led to a few more steps to improve the interior function and let you take the quality of your offerings to a new level,”Voelckers says.
According to the firm’s estimate, based on the conceptual plans, the total cost for the project would be just under $6 million. That includes construction as well as indirect costs like the design plans, permitting and furniture.
Museum director Helen Alten says one of the biggest motivators for the expansion and redesign is to get the building in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The act was signed into law in 1990, and as it stands now, the museum does not meet the terms laid out in ADA legislation.
“Most museums, most public facilities meet ADA now. We do not. Our bathrooms don’t, but the biggest thing is we’ve got these five levels,” Alten says.
She adds that on a regular basis the museum gets visitors that are either in a wheelchair, or have physical limitations that wind up cutting their visit short.
“Oh, all the time. I’m watching people struggle to get up the stairs, most of our volunteers have aged or are older and they can’t get up the stairs easily. I’m always afraid of somebody hurting themselves.”
Alten says not only could the borough be sued with no notice for not being in compliance, the restricted current design excludes locals as well as guests.
“We have an aging population in Haines and we have this wonderful resource. I would like to do more senior lunches and programming but it’s hard to do when I can’t people up to the gallery easily.”
Standing in the upper level on Friday morning, Alten looks around the open space. She says she can easily envision what the new and improved Haines Sheldon Museum will look like.
“I am so ready to just walk into the new building,” she says. “It’s got so much potential to be an incredible space.”
But before the first wall is knocked down or nail pounded, they have to raise a lot of money. Of the estimated $6 million the project will cost total, around $4 million of that is for construction.
Alten says she’s hoping the borough will step up with some funding, but she assumes much of it will come from various grants. A state grant program that matches museum construction costs might not be an option. Friday morning the State House passed its proposed operating budget with a $500,000 cut to museums.
But, there is other money out there.
“When I’m looking at grants, I’m looking at ADA grants and a Main Street Revitalization grant,” Alten says.
Ultimately, Alten says, she wants the new facility to be a central attraction in Haines, not just an afterthought.
“We want to be a destination that draws people to Haines because we are so wonderful.”
According to the architect – best case scenario – construction could start as soon as 2018. Alten is a little more conservative with her five-year goal. But a lot of that timeline hinges on just who will pick up the tab.