New, improved and more interactive
Calhoun County Museum plans facility renovation project
ROCKWELL CITY — For some time, the Calhoun County Museum board members have wanted a way to hold events at the museum year-round.
While the large former school building provided lots of space for holding artifacts of the county’s history, the board hasn’t been able to heat it in the winter, said former board member Gabe Blaskovich.
Now, thanks to some seed money from a supporter, the museum is on its way to completing a $200,000 renovation of a large room at the corner of the structure.
“There’s a lot of things we can do with the museum if we improve our facility,” said Blaskovich, who served on the museum board for 10 years, and is now involved in the fundraising effort. “We’re only open May to October. So you have six months of the year where we can’t do anything up there.”
There’s a need to make the museum more interactive, Blaskovich said, as the expectations people have for a museum have changed, much like they have for a library.
“People use libraries differently now than they used to,” he said. “So you went in to check out a book, and you returned a book. Well now they’re more interactive. They put on different programs and events, to educate especially our younger generations.
“We wanted to have a facility where we can do programs like that, and highlight either different themes or artifacts in the museum, or just do historical programs to draw people in and get them interested in history, and especially the history of Calhoun County. But we haven’t been able to do that because the old school building, after the school retired it and before the museum got it, they disabled the heating system in there. It had the old boiler system. There was no way to heat it, plus it would have been too expensive to heat that whole building.”
About two years ago, the museum was approached by a woman from Waterloo who had grown up in Rinard, Blaskovich said. Her mother had just passed away, and had strong ties to the town.
“She wanted to do something for the museum,” Blaskovich said. “We told her about our plans we had talked about for years. So she gave us seed money to do either a renovation, or at that time we were thinking about doing an addition, which would be a multi-purpose room and new restroom facilities.”
An addition isn’t really needed, Blaskovich said, and would have cost something like $400,000.
“We didn’t need to increase the size of the museum. We have enough to take care of. We need to better utilize the space we have, which is enormous,” he said.
In the process, they discovered part of the building had a structural problem that needed to be fixed. It wasn’t being used for much; it had once been a bus garage, Blaskovich said, and became storage when the museum took over the facility.
“It became known as the junk room. When something went there, it never came back out,” he said. “We were going to have to fix that, everything else put aside. Then we started looking at it. … And we thought, why not utilize that room? It was just the right size.”
The entrance to that part of the building, right next to the gymnasium, is also the entrance where a majority of traffic comes in during summer events, Blaskovich said.
The museum hosts hundreds of people at a time for a summer festival every year, he said. There’s also a big two-day flea market, a fall dance, and other events.
“So we thought, let’s renovate that part, let’s make an attractive entrance, let’s put in some nice handicap accessible restrooms,” said Blaskovich.
With a good multi-purpose room that’s usable throughout the winter, the museum could host a Christmas program, school reunions, and additional events highlighting Calhoun County’s history.
“The end of Armistice Day, World War I, coming up in November — we would like to do a program for veterans up there,” he said. “We have a lot of history on World War I up there, on veterans. Artifacts.”
Several contractors submitted bids for the project, Blaskovich said. Work will be done by a contractor from Lohrville who is acquainted with working on old buildings: Gene Kinney, or GK Construction. The work is expected to take around 90 days once it starts.
The museum contacted businesses within the county, and sent out mailings to every residence. They’ve also sent out personal letters to alumni all around Iowa.
“We’re relying on people who used to live here — and people have been generous so far,” Blaskovich said.
Still, the renovation is to cost about $200,000, and needed repairs to the structure aren’t included in that.
Donations are still being accepted. They can be mailed to: Calhoun County Museum Building Fund, P.O. Box 162, Rockwell City, IA 50579. Contact the museum at (712) 297-8139, or visit calhouncountyiowamuseum.org.