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Prairie Village Museum undergoes construction

By Staff | Nov 10, 2016

(Submitted photo) About one-third of Old Main exhibit hall at the Prairie Village Museum is being renovated to improve the customer service area; to provide new office space for the Geographical Center Historical Society, Rugby Chamber of Commerce and Rugby Convention & Visitors Bureau; and to create a climate-controlled collections care room.

The Prairie Village Museum is currently undergoing construction of its reception and gallery areas.

For over 50 years, the museum has closed during the winter months. In the recent years, the museum board has talked about the possibility of maintaining an office during the off-season.

However, the space never allowed for a permanent office for the executive director. For the past three years, Cathy Jelsing, current executive director, has moved between the KZZJ radio station basement and Sue Steinke’s A H Steinke & Co. and Rugby Motor Vehicle branch office.

The new construction will allow for Jelsing to have an office space, as well as the new Collections Care Room. Stephanie Steinke is the museum’s collections manager and will manage the care room, which will be used for working with the collections, repairing exhibits and holding museum archives.

Steinke was hired through a grant from the state historical society and was approved by the board to stay on staff for next year.

“We’re really excited about keeping her,” Jelsing said. “We’re putting more focus on the collections and taking care of them, and that’s why we’re keeping her on for another year.”

Another part of the reconstruction project will focus on the front area of the museum. What used to be a joint reception and collections area will now serve strictly as a reception and welcome area.

Museum evaluations conducted by professionals have shown that the museum would find itself more effective if the reception and customer service area was separate from display cases and collections.

As display cases are transferred out of the front area and construction continues in the Gallery area, collections will be moved and changed. Some collections will be retired to storage, donated to other museums, or returned to their original donors.

“We are going to be more selective about the objects that will be shown. It’s part of a bigger project where we are trying to make the exhibits more accessible. If people are overwhelmed with too many things, they can’t really enjoy them. We’re also doing more with interpretation of exhibits,” Jelsing said.

Included in the welcome area will be the new home of the Rugby Chamber of Commerce and Rugby Convention and Visitors’ Bureau. Executive Director Shelley Block will receive her own office in the front of the museum reception area, which will double as Pierce County’s welcome station.

“[The museum is] thrilled that they’re going to have their offices there,” Jelsing said. “We think that we’ll be able to serve visitors to our county better from that location, and we’re also hoping that it will increase our attendance [at the museum].”

Jelsing hopes that the museum renovations will serve a purpose to the community in the future, as well, in that it will be used as a resource for the people in the area. The museum is in the process of recording its records into a computer database that can be used for research.

“I think that the community, and all of Pierce County, should feel very proud that the museum is taking this next step into becoming more accessible to people and more of a resource that they can use,” Jelsing said.

The museum renovations are largely being funded from a gift presented by Victor Buchta of $250,000. Buchta has been a longtime volunteer at the museum and wanted to see the front reception area better developed, according to Jelsing.

Jelsing expects phase one of the reconstruction to be done by April, with phase two beginning after the plans for the inside have been completed.

“Phase two will be working on the faade, the whole front of the museum, and trying to make that more attractive,” Jelsing said.

The committee will be choosing a carpenter in the coming days, and Ben Kuhnhenn will be putting a new furnace in the museum this week. Tim Bartsch has been working as the electrical contractor throughout the project.

“Both of them are being generous with their time and their talents,” Jelsing said about Kuhnhenn and Bartsch.

The entire project, including phase two, is expected to be completed early August.

“The big goal is always [to have everything done by] the Village Fair in August,” Jelsing said. “I think it’s going to be an attractive place that people can bring friends, family and visitors. Because it’s going to be the welcome center, basically, I think it will give people a good first impression of Rugby.”

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