The Tri-Cities Historical Museum opened its doors earlier this week after having been closed since March 17 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Grand Haven museum’s director, Julie Bunke, said those who visit the Washington Avenue facility this summer will notice some differences. For example, exhibits that previously could be entered and explored are now roped off.
“There are just so many surfaces that could potentially collect any kind of virus in those rooms,” Bunke said. “That’s one of the biggest changes we’ve made. We’ve moved the signage outside the rooms.”
A maximum of 30 people can visit the museum at a time, and anyone inside must wear a face mask. The museum staff will conduct a deep-clean every hour, on the hour, Bunke said.
Museum hours are limited to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 12-5 p.m. Saturday. Typically, the museum would be open Sundays and Mondays during the summer.
“We decided to keep our offseason hours into the summer because we’re worried about staff fatigue, especially with them cleaning every hour,” Bunke said.
In summers past, the museum would at times draw 500 or more visitors each day. On Tuesday, the museum opened its doors and had a total of 30 visitors.
“We don’t know if that’s a statement that not many people are out and about, or they’re not willing to come into a public building yet,” Bunke said.
The museum’s “West Michigan Pike” exhibit opened earlier this year and was slated to run through June. However, since the museum was closed for the past few months, that exhibit has been extended through September. In October, a new exhibit will feature the history of Grand Haven’s Highland Park neighborhood.
While in-house exhibits continue to be available, museum staff made the difficult decision to cancel any large-group programming through the end of 2020. That includes the museum’s ice cream socials.
“Those usually get 750 people, and we just aren’t prepared to handle that big of a crowd yet with the pandemic going on,” Bunke said. “We’re doing a lot of online programming through social media.”
Bunke said that the Grand Haven museum’s opening coincides with several other museum openings throughout West Michigan.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lifted closures on libraries and museums in early June, but it took a month to make all the necessary preparations to open, Bunke said.
“We hadn’t been prepared because the date kept getting pushed back, then we had to scurry to get supplies,” she explained. “We have a lot of sneeze guards, and the Plexiglas to make those was on back order. We couldn’t even get Lysol disinfecting wipes until two weeks ago. We also had to get our staff and volunteers trained.”
Bunke said the museum has three staff members stationed at its front desk. One counts the number of people coming in to make sure they don’t exceed the 30-person limit. A second runs the cash register for the gift shop and the third is dedicated to cleaning.
Each deep cleaning cycle takes around 30 minutes.
“So, basically as soon as they’re done, they get a break and do it over again,” Bunke said.