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Making room for history

Alex Doty • Nov 4, 2015 at 9:34 AM

The Tri-Cities Historical Museum hopes its latest project helps preserve the community’s roots for years to come.

The Grand Haven museum has launched a drive to raise money for improvements to its new Community Archive & Research Center.

“We have a three-pronged mission to display, educate and preserve,” said the museum’s executive director, Steve Radtke. “We do a good job with display and education.”

It’s the preservation aspect that museum officials say needs to be better addressed — something the new archive center will help, and the fundraising drive will make possible.

“(The facility) is in the industrial park off of Hayes (Street),” Radtke said. “It’s part of the Harbor Industries property. They were generous in helping us acquire the property.”

The space is adjacent to the museum’s existing storage facility, and double the size of existing collections space.

“It’s such a serendipitous fit because of where it is,” Radtke said.

To improve the ability to manage the collection of more than 60,000 artifacts, the museum plans to make a number of improvements to the facility.

“At any museum, you only see roughly 10 percent of what a museum holds in its collection,” Radtke said, noting that space is needed for the 90 percent of stuff not on display.

To make sure the museum’s archive can keep the Tri-Cities’ history in pristine condition, a variety of improvements are proposed for the new space. This includes making improvements to the heating and cooling system so that artifacts and archives are stored in an optimal climate. This improvement is estimated to cost between $75,000 and $100,000.

Museum officials say the space will also better protect the archive from disaster, including fire or flood.

“Over half of our collection is paper and photographs,” Radtke said. “The paper archives are very vulnerable where they are located right now.”

The paper and photo archive is currently housed in the basement of the Akeley Building, the museum’s main building in downtown Grand Haven, and the space is protected by fire sprinklers. There are also water lines that could pose a problem for the collection if they break.

“Those individual photos and pieces of paper are all a record of where the people of Ottawa County came from,” Radtke said.

To better protect these items, they’d be moved to the new space, which will include a dry fire suppression system and better document and photo storage capability.

The new location will also receive new paint and flooring, and the Michigan Council for the Arts & Cultural Affairs approved a grant for museum-quality shelving and storage for the collection.

Additionally, an online and on-site resource will be created for public access of archived documents, and the project will ensure that the museum’s collection becomes a searchable resource, is protected from damage and is kept for the future.

“It creates a solution to a problem for an important part of what we’re trying to do,” Radtke said of the facility.

"The museum has been looking and saving for a solution,“ said Ken Formsma, who is helping the museum’s fundraising efforts. ”After the purchase of the building, an opportunity to let the people see Grand Haven up-close with artifacts is possible. Community leadership can make this a reality.“

Formsma said he is optimistic about the campaign, given past success with historic fundraisers in Grand Haven — such as the coal tipple, Musical Fountain, lighthouses and boardwalk.

People can find an insert in today’s Tribune to make donations to the project, and forms are also available on the museum’s website.

If all goes well with fundraising, organizers hope the work can be completed by early next year.

”We’re saying we think we can have a ribbon cutting in spring 2016,“ Formsma said.

Radtke also believes the community will step up to help the museum.

“Grand Haven seems to understand that a lot of this is what creates a sense of place here,” he said.

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