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History Museum on the Square plans mid-2019 opening

The Making of History

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Last edited 9:35 a.m., Nov. 7, 2018

After four years of planning, fundraising and construction, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the History Museum on the Square.

“It’s becoming apparent that things are getting done,” said John Sellars, the museum’s executive director. “For so long, it was like a duck swimming. It was moving, but you weren’t seeing the feet.

“Now, we’re down to the point where you’re seeing things actually happen.”

Sellars is hoping the 18,360-square-foot museum opens to the public in the late spring or early summer of 2019. That would be a decade after the museum purchased the 104-year-old former Barth’s Clothing Store building and invested $12 million in renovations.

“It’s going to be worth it when it’s all finished, because we’ll have a regional museum and a tourist destination that really celebrates the Queen City,” said Mary McQueary, the museum’s board president and co-chair of the capital campaign with her husband Rick.

It’s been a long road.

Museum officials bought the 157 Park Central Square building for $800,000 in 2008 via anonymous donations. That kicked off a planning and financing phase, said Rick McQueary, a donor and volunteer for the project.

“It hasn’t been one master plan. It’s been step-by-step,” he said. “It’s a several-year process, because we wanted to do it right.”

The next step was acquiring the former Sherwood law office building next door, in 2011, followed a year later by the purchase of the Fox Theatre.

The renovation project began in 2014.

“If there was a delay, we found it,” Sellars said with a laugh.

One snag was when museum officials couldn’t buy the Rosenbaum’s Jewelry store next to the Fox. As a fix, builders worked above the Rosenbaum’s building on the backside to connect the Fox and the Sherwood building, according to Springfield Business Journal past reporting.

The job site
For the general contractor, it’s been a commitment.

“This is probably one of the longest job sites we’ve been on,” said Kent Smith, vice president for Kenmar Construction Inc.

The construction company signed a $4.5 million contract which was scheduled to expire about two years ago, Smith said, but the parties renegotiated and added $311,000 in change orders and extended time. Casey Architecture is the project architect.

Kenmar has rebuilt the windows and the sign atop the building, added a mezzanine and dug an elevator shaft in the basement. Openings had to be cut between the two buildings, a difficult task due to the floors being about a foot apart in height.

“They’re slightly on different levels, so the elevator has to make seven stops going up and down,” Rick said of the two-story building.

Smith said Kenmar is now working on floor coverings, updating the sprinkler system and fire escape routes, and installing doors.

Other Springfield companies involved with the museum project are Pitt Technology Group LLC for electronics and Elemoose to fabricate rubble for the Civil War exhibit. Museum officials contracted with Maryland consultant Gallagher and Associates LLC, which worked on the Grammy Museum in Mississippi and The National Blues Museum in St. Louis, and Virginia subcontractor Explus Inc., known for exhibits at the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland and at the FDR Presidential Library in New York.

The History Museum building went through an extended period of asbestos remediation, new roofs were added and the heating and air systems were upgraded to meet Smithsonian standards.

“When we got done with the asbestos all we had was a brick box,” Sellars said.

Currently, electronic wiring is being placed by Pitt Technologies. Spray paint decorates the floor for exhibit placement.

Cases are all completed and being covered in protective brown paper in the museum.

With the expansion, museum officials plan to double its staff of five who currently work out of the Fox Theatre and the Holland building.

“We’ll be announcing some additions to our staff, and those will be coming out in the next few weeks where we’ll start doing the application and interviewing process,” Sellars said.

“The stories we’ll be able to tell and the things we’ll be able to reflect about this place we call home are going to be fabulous,” he added.

Krista Adams, the museum’s development director, said the nonprofit History Museum has received funding through grants, individual donations and corporate gifts. But she declined to disclose how much has been raised and the largest donors.

According to the museum’s most recent federal form 990 filings, the museum received $832,209 in contributions and grants from 2013 to 2016.

Adams said a capital campaign is in the silent phase.

Showcase on the square
The museum’s plans call for six permanent galleries: Native Crossroads at the Spring; Trains, Trolleys and Transportation: Children’s Education Area; Pioneers and Founders at the Crossroads; The Civil War in Springfield; Wild Bill Hickok and the American West; and the Birthplace of Route 66.

“The companies that we have developing the exhibits and doing all the construction are bringing truckloads in every few weeks and installing display cases and things like that,” Sellars said.

Once cases are in place, the floors will be laid, the walls painted and murals and other atmospheric pieces will be hung.

“The last piece of the puzzle is all of the electronics,” Sellars said. “It’s going to be huge.”

The museum will have three server rooms in the basement to power its electronic components.

The transportation gallery will cover the history of trolley cars, steam trains and the railroad system. It will feature a “time machine built into a replica of a trolley car,” Sellars said.

“We have 42 stories in the time machine right now – different events that have happened in Springfield that made it what it is today but were not significant enough or required enough space to have a whole gallery,” he said, citing the cobra scare in 1953 and Bonnie and Clyde’s kidnapping of a Missouri State Highway Patrol officer.

Sellars said a centerpiece on the second floor is an “immersion chamber” offering a 360-degree perspective of the way the public square looked circa 1865. It’ll also have a Route 66 gallery with maps and interactive features on a 66-foot long curved wall. One side is a map of the entire route, and the other side is a timeline of its development, Sellars said.

A 4-by-8-foot touchscreen table that’s a dotted map of Springfield will be placed in the entryway.

“If you touch a dot, a picture will come up of what was at that location back in time with a description,” Sellars said. “We had a local photographer go and take a picture from the same perspective and you’ll be able to slide back and forth.”

The table was designed by Watertown, Massachusetts-based Richard Lewis Media Group, which specializes in interactive installations, films and custom applications for public spaces.

“It will be something that will amaze people,” Sellars said of the museum. “Along with Wonders of Wildlife, the Discovery Center and the other places we have in the city, it’s going to make us a real destination.”

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