By Kristin Pazulski, DENVER DAILY NEWS
The Colorado History Museum closes its doors this weekend, but don’t think the displaced staff will be taking any time off.
“We’re not closing as a business, just our flagship museum and library will be closed,” said Rebecca Laurie, the public relations director for the Colorado Historical Society, housed in the museum’s building.
The museum’s building will be demolished in early May, making way for the new Ralph L. Carr Justice Complex. The justice complex will eventually house all of the state’s legal departments and courts.
The history society and museum will be moving into a new building, the History Colorado Center, currently being constructed just a block away at 12th and Broadway.
During construction, all historical society and museum staff will be moved to temporary office space at 1560 Broadway, the former Denver Post building, until fall 2011, when the new building should be complete and open to administration. The building won’t be open to the public until 2012, Laurie projected, allowing a few months for the building of the new exhibits.
In the meantime, the Colorado Historical Society will continue the oversight of its 10 historical sites and museums, and will still host events at these locations and its bus tours.
The museum and historical staff is already preparing its new exhibits for the expected 2010 opening to the public.
“We’re doing exhibit planning now,” Laurie said, adding that fundraising for new programs and exhibits is also underway.
But the staff’s biggest focus for the next few weeks is on packing.
The staff and volunteers not only have to individually wrap each historical piece the museum and society owns, which spans “10,000 years of history in Colorado,” Laurie said, but each piece must be placed in its own specially designed packaging. Laurie estimated at there are about 250,000 pieces in the museum’s collection.
“Even though we’re moving one block, because we’re moving twice, the pieces have to be packed as if we were moving anywhere,” Laurie said. “It’s just an incredible job.”
The museum has been preparing to move since last summer, and has about 400 volunteers and 20 full-time staff working on the move, which is coming down to the wire.
Brandi Elmore was cutting Ethafoam, a high-quality packaging foam, to fit pieces of Zumi and Santa Clara pottery that she and other volunteers and staff were packing yesterday. Elmore, a collections move assistant, was hired full-time to help with the move.
She said staff has been joking working to midnight, but said it might not be a joke soon, with the deadline fast approaching and still many pieces needing to be packed for the move to storage, where the pieces will stay until the new building is completed.
In addition to the historical artifacts, the exhibits and the staff offices, the historical society has to move its extensive library.
“It’s been so exciting to see everything going out of here in the past few days,” said Barbara Dey, the reference librarian.
Shelves, which held boxes of journals and letters at the beginning of the week, were empty yesterday. Most of the library’s pieces are also going into storage, but its newspaper microfiche collection will go to the Denver Public Library, so it is still accessible to the public.
The society’s research and photography reproduction services will up and running again in May, said Dey.
Much improved new building
The new building will be a huge improvement for the history museum, said Laurie. She explained that when the current building was built in the 1970s, financial hardships led to an incomplete design and construction, and that the building, though unique and interesting on the outside, is “flawed.”
“This is not the building that was designed for the museum,” Laurie said.
An Urban Land Institute study conducted on the historical museum and the justice center’s building, at the request of judicial department, concluded in 2005 that neither building was adequate for its purpose, and that building new buildings would, in the long run, be more cost effective.
Staff in the current justice complex building, which is on the same block, will move to another temporary Denver location in April and that building will also be demolished.
The new buildings will both better accommodate the organizations.
The historical center will have 10,000 square feet more exhibition space in its new building, which has a total of 198,659 square feet. It will be “green” and will offer more natural light in spaces where the collections will not be affected.
As important as the additional exhibition space is, the quality of the new storage facility will have a huge affect on the museum.
A much better climate for historical pieces
Currently, most of the museum’s space is underground, which Laurie said creates situations that could compromise the historical pieces, such as leaks. The storage in the new center will be climate controlled and meet collection storage standards. It will also be visibly and possibly actively accessible to the public.
In addition, the current underground-focused design of the building makes it look very small.
“It doesn’t provide a true representation of size and breadth of Colorado history,” Laurie said.
The state justice complex is also going to benefit from its new building. Currently the state’s legal departments and courts are scattered throughout the Denver area. The new building, which still in the designing stages, according to the project manager Bill Mosher from Trammel-Crow’s, will house all of the states legal and court departments.
“It will be a big consolidated area,” he said.
The entire project is being funded as one with Build America Bonds. The justice center will be paying back those bonds with increased legal fees (the fees were increased in 2008) and leasing revenue, and the museum and historical society use its annual portion of the State Historical Fund, which is funded by state gaming revenue.
The museum will be open until 5 p.m. on Sunday, and admission is free. Some of its exhibition space is closed for the move, but an exhibition of pieces by Allen True is on display. Be sure to stop in before the building is history.