Historical Society unveils museum vision

The nonprofit group wants to build a $1 million facility on the county fairgrounds
News Editor
   The Jefferson County Museum needs a new home.
   At least, that's what members of the county's Historical Society believe.
   Recently, they unveiled preliminary plans for a 10,000 square foot, $1 million facility they'd like to see located on the Jefferson County Fairgrounds to give some of the area's artifacts and historical treasures a new, more accessible home.
   "We need to keep everybody in the loop of what we're doing," said Elaine Henderson, chairperson of the Jefferson County Historical Society Board of Directors. "We're going to need more people onboard to help us with this."
   The group still has a long way to go and the project may not come to fruition for a number of years, Henderson said.
   Since the late 1970s, the museum has been located on the top floor of the former Jefferson County Courthouse at 34 S.E. D St., above the Oregon State University Extension Office.
   It is only open from June to mid-September or by appointment. There is no heat or air conditioning in the top floor and it lacks elevator access. Since it is operated entirely by volunteers, many history seekers who have trouble climbing stairs are unable to visit or work there as staff.
   The feasibility study and conceptual design, completed by the Bend-based Hara Shick Architecture firm, includes an archives library, more office space, workrooms and areas that could potentially be used for social gatherings. It's porch and turn-of-the-century design also give it a historical flavor that embodies the concepts of ranching, farming, mining and the early railroad industry.
   The Historical Society, which merged in 1996 with a group that operated the museum, has been working to find a new location for more than a year. This came after they determined upgrades to the current facility could cost $750,000.
   "We looked at a number of properties and they either weren't big enough, didn't have enough parking or we couldn't afford it," Henderson said.
   The group believes it would be a nice compliment to the fairgrounds, the old schoolhouse there and what is known as the "Homestead House," built by early pioneers William Farrell and George Manner.
   Before the project gets moving, however, the Historical Society will have to jump through a number of logistic hoops and hurdles, which includes earning approval from the Jefferson County Fair Board.
   They took their rough proposal to a recent Jefferson County Board of Commissioners meeting and appeared to have at least the three commissioners' blessing.
   "Preserving our county's history is very important," said Commission Chair Janet Brown. "It needs to be in a building where people have better access to it and it's open year-round.
   "Having it out at the fairgrounds would be nice," she continued. "The design of the new building would also be a nice place to have social events and functions."
   Currently, the nonprofit group has only $19,600 in its coffers. They are pursuing numerous grants to fund construction and operation of the facility, and want to allay any fears that the proposed museum would be a burden on the county.
   Construction could cost in excess of $1 million due to expenses that go beyond the facility, like city and county permits, system development charges and architectural fees.
   "We've got a big project in front of us," Henderson said. "We are going to do this with grants and donations. This is not something we would put on the tax roll in any way. Our directors want the money before we start to build."