HR County museum prepares for changes,expansion

Jan. 1, 2011

With the site for The History Museum of Hood River County decided, both sides in the location debate are ready to move on.

The museum board is prepared to move forward with the first phase of expansion plans and Phil Jensen, a museum donor and former board member, is preparing to move forward with plans for displaying memorabilia from the Luhr Jensen fishing company.

"I think it worked out for the best," Jensen said of the Hood River County Board of Commissioners voting to keep the museum at its current location and authorize it to go ahead with the first phase of its expansion.

The Board of Commissioners vote followed a report by consultant Alice Parman which recommended leaving the museum in its current location. Jensen had proposed moving the museum to Tucker Road near the Western Antique Aeroplane & Automobile Museum to be part of a museum consortium.

Instead, the museum will immediately set to work on phase one of its plan, which it estimates will cost in the $320-340,000 range and for which it already has the cash on hand.

The first phase is more of a "re-envisioning" as opposed to an expansion and involves making the building more energy-efficient through insulation, opening up space on the interior by incorporating the inner courtyard, and developing a more friendly and efficient opening.

"We are not only trying to make better use of our space, we want to be more environmentally friendly," Museum Director Connie Nice said.

Conceptual drawings from the first phase also include making restrooms more accessible and increased space for collections and education.

The museum also intends to explore a partnership with the Hood River County Visitor Center and Chamber of Commerce to see about all three organizations operating inside the museum.

"We still believe in that partnership," Nice said.

The Chamber of Commerce said it is open to such a partnership and hopes to formulate more details on any proposal when Nice meets with Chamber Director Kerry Cobb next month.

"We're really at the preliminary stages and I'm looking forward to hearing her ideas," Cobb said.

Nice and the museum board hope that such a partnership will help the museum become more visible and attract more interest as it begins to charge a $3 entrance fee and transitions to an operating schedule that is close to year-round.

"The point is for us to be more visible to the public," said Dottie Gilbertson, museum board vice president.

The bulk of the cost of the first phase will go toward insulating the building's walls, which are concrete block; sheet rocking the interior, rewiring electrical and redoing the floor, which is concrete under carpet, to make it better insulated and easier on the legs of volunteers and guests.

"We're looking for ways to become more sustainable," Gilbertson said. "It's our responsibility to pass on a more secure legacy."

While the museum moves ahead on its plans for remodeling and expansion, Jensen is moving ahead with plans to display the items he says represent the legacy of Luhr Jensen and Sons in Hood River.

"I'd like to see something come to fruition with the Luhr Jensen collection," he said.

He is hoping to have some of that history on display at the history museum and is also hoping to build a new structure near WAAAM to house more items.

He sees it as a plan to follow a pair of mutually supportive paths.

"One road would be to support the history the museum and the other would be to have things out at WAAAM," he said.

Both sides remain hopeful they can work together and are ready to let the past be the past.

"I really felt bad about that kerfuffle," Jensen said.

The museum board issued a statement that it hopes will help smooth over any hard feelings from the location debate.

"The Museum Board wants to once again publically acknowledge their sincere gratitude for the support of The History Museum by so many in this community, including Phil Jensen. Without this support we recognize that we would not be in a position to begin implementing our plans for Phase I at this time," the statement read.

"It really is time to put this whole issue behind us and move forward with the exciting plans that we have so carefully and diligently developed over the past three years. Plans that will lay the groundwork for providing a strong cultural legacy for future generations."

The museum is meeting with architect Bud Oringdulph next week to lay out final plans for Phase 1 of the project and hopes for construction to be done in 40 weeks before (the end of?) 2011.

"He loves Hood River and loves our project," Gilbertson said. "He takes on pet projects that he loves."

The museum also plans to stay open as much as possible during renovations.

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