Work is moving ahead to make the new museum building accessible, with a goal of opening it this summer to the public.
Rob Showell, president of the South Similkameen Museum Society, said permits are pretty much in place for a ramp to be built up to the front door of the former Masonic Lodge, and for retrofits to make the upstairs washrooms accessible.
“Things are definitely moving ahead,” Showell said.
The museum has hit roadblock after roadblock since it bought the former Masonic Lodge building in 2016.
After purchasing the building it was found out that under provincial regulations it would have to be upgraded for accessibility before it could open to the public.
The museum society decided to move the former museum, an artifact itself, to the new location. The idea was the museum could operate out of the former provincial jail until accessibility upgrades could be completed. Once completed the jail would act as a standalone exhibit showing the history of small jailhouses in the province and the evolution of policing.
The former museum was built in 1907 and used as a jailhouse until 1959.
Good news came in April 2017 when it was announced the museum received a $50,000 BC Museum Association provincial Canada 150 grant.The grant was to move the old museum to the new museum’s location on 9th Avenue.
But stiff requirements, lack of skilled people to move the building and the potential for damage forced the museum to reallocate funding to the accessibility project.
Showell said the museum was told in October that the province approved the change to the scope of the project.
“We’ve been working for three months to find tradespeople. It’s very difficult to find skilled people. I’ve never scoped out something this large in town, so I don’t know if that is common. People kept giving me names to contact. When I’d call, they’d say they were too busy and to call them next year. With so many grants out there there is so much work to be done. We did finally get some local people and we’ve gotten an electrician out of Penticton. I’m very optimistic about getting the projects we have now finished.”
The deadline to use the grant monies is the end of March 2018. Showell is hoping to get as much as work done as possible between now and then, but said it is very contingent on weather.
“We’re hoping they might be able to give us a bit of an extension considering the Keremeos winters and lack of tradespeople available, but we’ll see.”
In addition to making the upstairs accessible the building will also be rewired.
This winter pipes in the downstairs kitchen froze and split open flooding parts of the basement.
Showell said as work was underway to repair the damage it was found there was no insulation in the basement and that the wiring needed updating.
“It’s like any old house. You start on one project and then you find other things that need to be done.”
When the basement gets rewired additional wiring will be done upstairs so extra outlets can be put in. The former meeting room at the Masonic Lodge did not have many outlets so lighting exhibits was going to be a challenge.
The museum society received a $5,000 grant from Fortis B.C. late in 2017. Showell said the grant comes, “with no strings attached.”
The grant was received from the utility company after the museum society was unsuccessful with a $15,000 grant application to buy a new natural gas furnace and update some lighting to become more energy efficient.
“Right now we’re using a very old oil furnace and it’s not very economical. Usually we wouldn’t be in the museum in the winter, but this year of course we have work going on.”
Showell said previously operating costs at the former museum were quite low as the building was only open for about two months a year.
The new building is expected to be used much more.
Although the basement will not be open to the public until a ramp can be put in, the idea is to at some point rent out the basement for functions or hold fundraisers using the kitchen as a way to generate income.
Showell said the museum society is always looking for new members. Meetings are the first Wednesday of every month. Anyone wanting to join can contact Showell at 250-499-2499.