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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Museum Expansion Project
By Laurie Pool, Tongass Historical Society


February 20, 2013
Wednesday PM

To: Editor – Sitnews.

We are writing to address the recent letters to the editor concerning the museum expansion project.

Plans for a new or renovated museum have been talked about for years. The Centennial Building was built in 1967 and originally housed the Tongass Historical Society museum, and a federally funded exhibit about the purchase of Alaska. When the federal exhibit came down, the City’s library moved into the space left by the exhibit in 1968.  Almost immediately a need for more space was recognized.  In 1997 a concept design was completed for a new 27,000 s.f. museum to be added onto the Discovery Center.  In 2004 another 30,000 s.f. concept design was presented using the existing footprint of the Centennial Building, rising vertically. Both concepts would have included the famous Ellis Airlines Grumman Goose which the Tongass Historical Society owns and hopes to someday find a place to safely and properly display.  Despite best efforts, neither concept was pursued by the City.

The City of Ketchikan’s museum staff has continued to be the caretakers of the many treasured artifacts that have been donated over the years,  providing excellent exhibits and programs showcasing those items and our community’s history.  The Tongass Historical Society and other patrons of the museum continue to hope that someday a museum project will be completed that will provide adequate working space for the employees, and adequate storage space which not only consolidates the collection into one building, but also displays and preserves those artifacts in a safe way for locals and tourists alike to enjoy. At this time only a small part of the collection can be displayed which can be frustrating to those patrons who frequent the museum, and to those who have donated items and hope to see them on display for all to enjoy.

As the years have gone by and we have watched the number of capital projects that our City has been asked or required to fund we knew that a new museum may not be a priority when up against projects that address public safety and welfare. We have also watched publicly-supported projects such as the new swimming pool and the new library develop in recent years.   Although we hoped for a new museum big enough to house local treasures like the Grumman Goose, we knew we had to “re-adjust” our ideas and develop a smaller plan than we had originally hoped for.  We also knew that once the library moved out of the Centennial building that would create an opportunity for the museum expansion.

At a recent City Council meeting held on January 10, it was pointed out that it took roughly 10 years for the library project to develop and to finally be built. With this in mind, and knowing the library would be moving out the end of 2012, a museum expansion committee was formed in the spring of 2012 to begin brain-storming different concepts for a renovated museum.  The Foraker Group, the same group that assisted The Friends of Library in planning and obtaining funds, agreed to help the City develop these concepts. Having the Foraker Group involved from the beginning helped the committee move forward faster and more efficiently. This was at no cost to the City.  Meetings have been held over the last several months where the Foraker Group, The City of Ketchikan, the Tongass Historical Society, and the museum expansion committee have invited the public to participate and discuss the development of this project. It was wonderful to see how many people participated in these meetings. It was a diverse group of people from all sectors of the community. Because the Centennial building has housed the museum and library for many years it is thought of fondly by many people in this community.  Participants commented on how much they liked the location of the building next to the creek, and how that location could be used in the design concept.

At the January meeting, the Foraker Group gave a presentation to the City Council that included three different progressive cost scenarios.  1. Upgrades and Repair Only at $6,880,000 which would do minimal upgrades to the facility and make it compliant with building codes  2. Renovation to accommodate museum functions, including upgrades and repairs at $8,260,000. This would provide an updated museum space with plenty of adequate storage and display space as well as provide classroom and updated office space.  3. New Facility at $9,580,000 which includes building a new museum on a different site.  The last cost scenario for a new museum was not requested by the City of Ketchikan, but the Foraker Group included it in its presentation so that it could be used for comparison to the other two options. These costs cover a 14,175 sq. ft. facility which is the current footprint of the Centennial Building and was identified as the correct size to house the current museum collection without the Grumman Goose.  For more information on the Centennial Building and the Museum expansion concept, visit:                                                                             

The purpose of the meeting was to give the City of Ketchikan and the community an idea of what was needed and the cost for these projects. 

The Centennial building is in dire need of repair and upgrading if the City plans to continue to utilize it. The roof leaks, there is minimal insulation leading to high heating costs, there is no sprinkler system, no elevator, and the building does not meet  the current building codes for handicap accessibility.   At the January meeting it was pointed out that many of the problems with some of the public buildings in Ketchikan could have been avoided if proper maintenance had been done to the buildings through the years. A comment was also made that doing nothing or deferring the problem will not solve the problem. It’s time to address the problems at the Centennial building. It also seems the right time to address the needs of the Tongass Historical Museum which has been one of its main tenants since it was originally built 45 years ago, and hopes to continue to remain a tenant and a source of pride for this community.

It should also be pointed out that Alaska’s statewide association of museums, along with the Alaska Historical Society, is supporting legislation under which the legislature would provide matching grants for upcoming museum projects, similar to the matching funding offered for library projects. Funding under such an act would probably not be available for a few years; but if we are ready, our museum may be a top candidate when those funds do become available.

The Tongass Historical Society is aware that the City of Ketchikan, and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough have had to fund many projects in these times of financial uncertainty. As fellow tax payers,  we are also aware that the citizens of Ketchikan and the Borough are the ones who bear much of the burden of paying for these projects whether they are necessary for public safety or not.  In the short term we ask the City to address the worsening conditions of the Centennial building and aggressively move forward with plans to repair the building. We also ask that the City Council continue to work with the museum expansion committee and the community to develop a plan for the museum, which will provide our community with a facility that will not only showcase the unique collection of donated items, but also provide a safe, dry place to house and display them so they may be preserved to tell our community’s story for future generations.


Tongass Historical Society
Laurie Pool, President
Ketchikan, AK


Received February 19, 2013 - Published February 20, 2013





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