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Museum project taking shape

The three Nevada State Museum buildings on North Carson Street are now united by a huge metal structure designed to look like the head frames built to lower people and equipment into Nevada mines 100 years ago.

The $3.2 million project was approved by lawmakers in large part to provide the disabled with safe access to the museum and its underground mine exhibit. But Museum Director Jim Barmore said it will also provide the museum with a proper entrance for visitors.

“It will be our lobby,” said Barmore.

The glassed-in structure will also have a large open space that can be used for exhibits.

Barmore said the idea is to use that space to display large artifacts such as the Basque sheepherder’s wagon or even the massive woolly mammoth skeleton now on the second floor.

With lighting at night so they could be seen by pedestrians or drivers passing the museum, Klette said, “It’s going to be spectacular.”

Once inside, visitors to the remodeled museum will be guided, in part, by a series of flat-screen displays. The displays not only will tell them where specific exhibits are, but what events are scheduled on any particular day.

In the past, some tried the old Mint building front door, which has been basically sealed. Some went around back or tried doors at the north and south ends of the building.

But the access problem was always serious.

“You cannot get into this building without doing stairs,” said Scott Klette, the museum’s facility supervisor. “This solves that.”

The new head frame structure will contain an elevator and provide access not only to the old Mint but the addition built behind it years ago and the basement’s underground mine exhibit. At the other end, it connects with the former bank building to the north.

When he presented the plan to the Public Works Board, Gardnerville architect Robert Oxoby said: “This solves the issue of one of the most prestigious buildings in state government where we have to take the handicapped around and wrestle them into a freight elevator.”

But Klette and Barmore pointed out the elevator still won’t permit wheelchair access to the underground mine exhibit. Changes first have to be made to that exhibit.

“We’re working on a concept to fix that but we want to save the mine, keep it like it’s always been,” said Barmore.

Workmen are preparing the metal framing for the glass what will enclose it. After the brown paint is applied, the glass goes in this year, they said.

And once that happens, a good share of the construction debris and equipment can be cleaned up at the side.

Workmen are also designing landscaping features on the Carson Street side of the project, which Klette said will eventually feature some native Nevada plants.

The space to the west of the structure will become primarily handicapped parking.

Behind the building, uneven walkways will be replaced with new sidewalks and space for several school and tour buses to park, eliminating another safety hazard at the museum.

Through all the construction, the museum has remained open and both men said they have been pleasantly surprised that attendance really hasn’t suffered. Barmore said total attendance this past fiscal year was off only 4 percent from the year before construction began. That despite the fact visitors have to enter through a non-descript side door on the south side of the museum.

The project had its one-year anniversary Wednesday. Barmore said he hopes everything will be finished before the 2009 Legislature adjourns next June.

“It’s going to unify the complex and enhance the museum as an attraction,” he said. “I think it will draw customers.”

– Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at gdornan@nevadaappeal.com or 687-8750.