It will be accessible. It will be safe. And it will be space for the community.
Just exactly what will be in the space when it’s done is still up in the air. However, renovations of the historic Merchants Bank of Canada building on Main St. are underway this summer.
Under the stewardship of the Humboldt and District Museum and Gallery (HDMG) since last year, the circa-1920 building at 601 Main St. was formerly known as the Willkommen Centre, and was a place where tourists could come to learn a bit about the history of Humboldt.
It had been donated to the City of Humboldt by the CIBC in 1989.
In the future, the building will be used by the HDMG, as after 30 years of serving the community from the historic Post Office building across Main St. from the Merchants Bank building, the museum needs to expand its operations to better serve the growing city and region.
They will be using the Merchants Bank building to do so. But first, a few things have to be done to the building to make it work.
Jennifer Hoesgen, director of the HDMG, and Wanda Lefebvre, chair of the HDMG Foundation, met the Journal in the building last week to explain what the renovation project entails.
Phase 1 of the project involves addressing accessibility and safety in the building.
They are changing the heating and cooling systems, replacing the boiler system with forced air and putting in new duct work. They are also installing sprinklers and a fire alarm panel, and putting in an elevator and wheelchair accessible washrooms, said Lefebvre.
The budget for this phase is about $375,000.
Phase 2 involves creating community space in the building — installing new lighting, flooring, a new ceiling, and painting everything — cosmetic work.
The budget for this part of the project is $125,000.
Renovations are currently in Phase one.
Some temporary walls that had once enclosed office space in the building have been taken down, and the structural work needed to install the elevator near the front door has been installed. New stairs will go in up to the second level of the building, and up to the main floor from the entrance, which will be at ground level to allow for easy access by those in wheelchairs.
“It will be a much nicer entrance,” Hoesgen promised. “More open.”
The elevator is the only major structural change that will be made to the building, Hoesgen said.
“The beauty of this historic building is its location, the architecture outside, and the history of the building,” she said. And they don’t want to change that.
On the second floor, which was once an apartment, not much will change at all, beyond new flooring, paint and lighting.
“We’re going to leave it as is,” she said. “There are some natural spaces up there that are nice exhibition spaces.”
Just what will be displayed in those spaces has not yet been decided, however.
The HDMG board is still trying to determine what the overall vision for the building will be, Hoesgen said.
“We’re looking at what parts of the museum... would fit best (in the bank building),” she noted. “We want to make it as efficient as possible, (operating) out of two buildings.”
All of the renovations they are doing, she said, could fit any exhibition, as they are just the basics to get the building ready for anything.
In the meantime, while renovations are going on, Hoesgen is consulting with experts and professionals about different aspects of the building, including lighting and design. She’s talked to fellow museum curators, gallery managers and artists.
They’ve found some surprises since renovations began.
“We’re really getting to know this building,” Hoesgen smiled.
For instance, they found a steel beam across the ceiling where the elevator was to go up to the second floor — one of those surprises that come with not having original plans for the building.
That meant adjusting their design a bit, but it all worked out in the end, and Hoesgen is happy with the location of the elevator now.
They also found a few artifacts in the walls — copies of The Star by Mail, a newspaper from Saskatoon, from June 30 and July 6, 1927, and a Bohemian beer bottle, circa unknown.
The bottle is not from 1927, Hoesgen believes, but just when it dates from, and why it was in a wall, is unknown at this point.
Funding for these renovations has come in part from grants, the City and a large donation made by Ron Bell, a great supporter of the museum for many years, a few years ago.
“He always talked about the expansion of the museum, so this will be his dream coming true,” said Hoesgen of Bell.
Just when the project will be completed depends on a few things, not the least of which is available funds.
They are fundraising for this project, the two noted.
The Friends of the Museum donated funds raised by the Festival of Wreaths last year to this project, and plan to do so again this year.
The HDMG Foundation has also done fundraisers, like barbecues and working at the RBC Cup, Lefebvre said.
Letters have also gone out to the business community, asking them to help out with donations.
It’s hoped Phase 1 of the renovations will be completed by the end of this year or January of 2013, depending on how many more surprises the historic building has in store.
As for Phase 2, that’s more dependent on fundraising.
“We can do it in phases,” Hoesgen said of the second stage of work, “but we hope to do it all at once and open everything in 2014.”