Chesterton Tribune

Porter County History museum expanding to former Valparaiso police station

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Heads of the Porter County Heritage Corporation said they will soon launch a campaign to raise the estimated $2 million needed to renovate the former Valparaiso Police Station across from the Porter County Courthouse into a new museum of science, art and history.

At last week’s Valparaiso Board of Public Works and Safety meeting, the city approved a lease for the heritage corporation to rent the building for at least 25 years with two renewal options for $1 per year.

Executive Director of the Porter County Museum of History Kevin Pazour said the city agreed to the low lease, seeing the potential enhancements a “world-class” museum would bring to its downtown square.

“I think (Valparaiso) saw the benefit in what we are trying to do, bringing new life to that area. It’s going to be a great thing for all of Porter County,” Pazour said.

The targeted opening date is late 2014.

Pazour said the heritage corporation will still maintain the museum’s current location, the Old Jail building at 153 Franklin St. in Valparaiso adjacent to the Memorial Opera House. Once the new building opens, the Old Jail museum will exhibit more period pieces where rooms will be decorated to create the look of a specific space in time, from the 1860s to the 1930s and beyond. While there was talk last year by the Porter County Commissioners to bridge the Old Jail museum with the Opera House to create a historic music venue, Pazour said that idea has since been abandoned.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees for the Heritage Corporation Paul Bartholomew said these are “pretty exciting times” with the potential for the museum to grow and those on the board are turning their energy towards getting the new building ready for operation.

The non-profit heritage corporation was formed more than two years ago to operate the museum using donations collected from private sources instead of public tax money.

The trustees, in the meantime, will continue the new wave of hosting temporary exhibits at the Old Jail Museum such as “Masks” which opened in November and “Tools of the Trade” which is set to open in the next few weeks.

“There will be a good number of exhibits in the next few years to get more people excited about the museum’s ideas. They can see what the potential is and what we have to offer,” said Bartholomew. “We hope our collections reflect the history of Porter County and the people of Porter County. History is nothing but a story and we have thousands of stories to tell.”

Bartholomew said most of the contributions for the revamp will come from business and individual donors in the county. He believes the $2 million goal is reachable due to its cultural and educational elements.

Education is one of the bigger roles the heritage corporation wishes to advance, bringing museum experiences to local school children and getting residents acquainted with their history, Bartholomew said. Valparaiso University has been assisting the museum in its outreach.

Pazour said the City of Valparaiso “in its good graces” agreed to cover utility expenses for five years at the former police station. The city will maintain ownership of the former police station just as the county does for the Old Jail museum and the heritage corporation will be responsible for its design and construction.

The Valparaiso Board of Public Works has suggested the building’s exterior work could be paid for with a matching façade grant of up to $25,000.

In another matter, Pazour said the “Tools of the Trade” exhibit is tentatively scheduled to open on Feb. 26 at the Old Jail museum. The museum is closed for this week while the staff works to replace a boiler.



Posted 2/16/2012