New Museum Planned for Historic Galena, Galena Historical Society Announces

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Consulting team from Minneapolis area hired to guide the process.

When your entire town is an outdoor museum, the tendency is to feel you’ve connected with history just by walking or driving through the mid-19th century streets and architecture. But the Galena-Jo Daviess County Historical Society knows bricks and mortar are just the tip of the iceberg; that preserving and interpreting the stories of the land and the people who inhabited it make a deeper, richer learning experience. They’ve been doing that for 75 years through the Galena History Museum on South Bench Street. In 2014 they are embarking on a plan to create a new world-class museum in historic Galena.

The current museum is in a historic residential neighborhood with limited visibility, poor accessibility, and no parking. Limited space and inadequate infrastructure inhibit high-quality exhibits, programming, collection storage and conservation, and sufficient staffing levels.

Board President Stephen Coates created a Project Committee to provide oversight to the process which will result in a new facility to portray Galena and Driftless Area history through interactive, state-of-the-art exhibits and address the other limitations of the current space. “Given the depth and importance of the story we have to tell – about both Galena and where we are in the Driftless Area – the Board wanted to follow a thoughtful, thorough process for finding a new home for the Museum,” said Coates. “We don’t know yet if that new home will be in a renovated existing building, or if it will be a brand new structure. In fact, just now it’s more important to the Board that we carefully define the stories we want told in this new home. The Project Committee includes local people whose working experience ensures clear communication with the Museum planning group we’ve engaged. And that group demonstrated through their proposal and interview the wealth of experience they’ll bring to this process – a process that will include meetings with our public, to learn their interests and concerns about the story and the project.”

The Committee released a Request for Proposal in October for the first two of four phases: Interpretive Plan/Conceptual Design and Architectural Design/Site Selection. Seventeen proposals representing 62 professional architect/exhibit design firms and consultants were received by the November 1 deadline. The Project Committee diligently worked through the documents to discern the best fit for the scope of work. Seventeen were winnowed to six, then to one: MSR, award-winning architecture, interior and urban design firm from Minneapolis.

MSR has 32 years of experience designing museums and historic places that relay interpretive stories, including the Mill City Museum, Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum, Bakken Library and Museum of Electricity in Life, Asia Pacific Cultural Center, City House (adaptive reuse of a historic grain terminal in Saint Paul), and the adaptive reuse of several buildings in Philadelphia’s historic Naval Shipyard into the Urban Outfitters Corporate Campus. They are nationally recognized experts in renovating and expanding existing building, having won three national American Institute of Architecture (AIA) Honor Awards and two National Trust for Historic Preservation Awards for such work.

Matthew Kruntorád, AIA, LEED AP, will be the Principal in Charge for the Galena project, leading five key personnel from MSR including founder Thomas Meyer, FAIA, with 42 years’ experience. “At the heart of our practice,” states Kruntorád, “is the relevance of stories in our daily lives. We look for projects that are rare, thrive on the stories they bring to the local and larger community, and strive to endure time. Our professional staff and consultants are excited to pursue the rich mix of qualities that Galena has to offer for the museum.”

The MSR team includes these subconsultants: Split Rock Studios, interpretive exhibit planner & designer, Damon Farber Associates, landscape architect, CPMI (Cost Planning & Management International), cost estimator, and Artspace Consulting, economic impact consultant. All are from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.

Split Rock Studios brings history to life. From Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, to major historical museums across the country, the firm excels at working with clients to create experiences that enthrall, entertain, and engage visitors on every level. In 2013, Split Rock Studios won first, second, and third place National Association for Interpretation (NAI) Best New Exhibits awards.

The Galena-area community will be encouraged to participate in decisions to be made in the next six months such as main exhibit themes, facility size and location. In addition to resident and visitor surveys, a series of public meetings will inform the planning process. Partnerships and efficiencies of shared space for local civic groups will be explored in the Museum’s quest for a sustainable space.

Funding for professional planning is from donations to a “Moving It Forward” campaign which raised $681,000 last year for planning and the establishment of an endowment for the Historical Society.

A Meet & Greet Kick-Off will take place at the DeSoto House Hotel on Galena’s historic Main Street on February 19th from 5 to 6:30pm to introduce the consulting team and the process to the public. To keep informed about the community project, visit the Society’s website at

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Tonia Blair
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