Pieces of the Franklin County Historical Museum’s collection are scattered throughout the county.
Some are stored in the basement of the Pasco police station.
Some are tucked into the Kahlotus Grange Hall.
The Port of Pasco is storing some items for the museum. Past museum board members opened up their barn space.
Only about 10% of the museum’s collection is on display, said Damien Davis, the museum’s part-time executive director since January 2021. Davis also served as manager at the Pasco Farmers Market and interim executive director at the Downtown Pasco Development Authority.
“Franklin County, with its rich history in agriculture, means there have been large things donated. As people have donated items and we received them through the years, we haven’t had a place to house the donations. We really wanted a place to centralize it,” Davis said.
That’s why the Franklin County Historical Society plans to build a 5,802-square-foot annex behind its museum at 305 N. Fourth Ave. in Pasco. It’s not clear when construction will begin on the $809,352 project as it has been fraught with delays.
Preserving the history of the people of Franklin County is important, said Glen Allison, president of the Franklin County Historical Society. He’s a retired history teacher.
He pointed out that the society’s role is preserving residents’ stories.
“When I taught history, I did my best to tell stories about the real people who showed up for different events. … Real people are a big deal for me. To tell their stories. That’s what we’re doing here,” he said.
The new annex will be a steel two-story building with 5,180 square feet on the main level and 622 square feet on the upper mezzanine.
The society acquired three parcels behind the museum and leveled the houses on them to build the annex at 423 W. Bonneville St. Romm Construction of Pasco is the builder.
About three-quarters of the annex will be used for curation and receiving new collection items, preservation, restoration and storage. The rest will feature museum displays. The new building also will be used to host events.
Two years ago, the historical society kicked off a capital campaign, raising about $444,000, which, combined with a state grant, was enough for the building and overage for the little things that inevitably pop up, Davis said.
But the $173,404 state grant through the Washington State Historical Society may be in jeopardy due to a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling related to paying prevailing wages through the entirety of the construction project, instead of during different project phases, Davis said.
This may raise the overall cost of the project 25%-33%, putting the grant dollars in jeopardy, Davis said.
“We’re evaluating it right now,” he said. “It’s just another hurdle in the race.”
The pandemic also created additional challenges.
Project costs rose from $540,000 to $809,000, increasing the budget for the annex and leaving a $240,000 gap.
The museum applied for a building permit in January and received approval in August because the building codes changed in February, Davis said.
“All our of plans and all our drawings reflected the old code. ... It took until August to get the i’s dotted, t’s crossed,” he said. It also cost the nonprofit more to re-engineer its plans.
“We had been hoping to be done by the start of this summer. Patience is a virtue and we’re learning the hard way,” he said, adding that the city of Pasco and Franklin County have provided a “ton of support” for the project.
To bridge the funding gap, the historical society plans to run a secondary capital campaign while the annex is under construction.
Davis said he hopes to get the shell up before winter weather sets in.
The framing steel and some building supplies are already staged on the property.
But Davis isn’t sure when the work will begin because “the trade people are crazy booked,” and the museum society is waiting on the blessing from the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. But if the society doesn’t use the state grant dollars, this step is not needed, Davis said.
Currently, excavators are booked up to nine weeks out, he said. Completion is expected in 2022.
Creating a complex
The annex project is part of the museum society’s long-term goal to create a museum complex.
The Franklin County Historical Society began in 1968 before it even had a building. It took over the 5,000-square-foot Carnegie Library in 1983. The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“This is a great building we have. But there are things we can’t do in here because we can’t alter the building,” Allison said.
Looking to the future, the nonprofit bought the 1,000-square-foot blue home next door the museum at 311 N. Fourth Ave. for $158,800 in late 2019.
It will be used as a waypoint to vet items before adding them to the museum. Other future possibilities include turning it into a research cottage for genealogy or a student-run coffee and art shop.
Plans also are underway to digitize the museum’s collection and launch a new website, which will offer curriculum-based lessons for educators. It’s a big undertaking as there are 100,000 pieces in the collection, Davis said.
“We’re in the process re-cataloging every single thing we have in the museum,” Damien said.
The museum’s role is to educate but the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way it reaches people, Davis said. Field trips and visiting schools were no longer options.
“Our goal is to modernize and take that next step. We’re excited for it. There will be challenges that come along with it – space being the biggest one,” he said.
Even once the annex is built, there won’t be enough room to house the entire collection. But the historical society hopes to centralize the collection in one location.
“It’s been something we’ve been working on for about a decade,” Davis said.
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