By James Bell
During their annual meeting Monday, the Ellis County Historical Society’s board of directors and trustees heard an update from executive director Amanda Rupp.
After officaly taking the reigns of the society last summer, Rupp said the staff and volunteers had made significant strides in an ongoing effort to reorganize the society’s collection and increase community involvement.
And with the accomplishments of the last year setting an overall positive tone for the future of the society, she provided some exciting initiatives the society has planned for 2023 as they settle back into their recently renovated office space on the lower floor of the former Presbyterian Church on their campus at Seventh and Main that serves as the society’s main facility.
“It was nice to be back home,” Rupp said. “It's nice to have (Curator Adam Conkey) and I working on the same premises.”
“At that meeting, we got to unveil our plans for the phase two of that project that was just to get us back home to kind of make a suitable space for people to visit,” Rupp said.
She said phase two is more significant in scope and will solidify the entire building to allow continuing efforts to open the museum to the public.
“These are not the flashy and inspiring things that people want to jump on board and support,” Rupp said. “But these are the things that need support, and it's probably – out of the three phases that we have going – to be the biggest ticket part of the project.”
In phase two, she said they would add an ADA-accessible ramp to the church's south side, allowing access to the archives and office spaces. They also will turn a storage space near the office into a curator lab that will enable the society to process artifacts. A new ADA-compliant bathroom also is scheduled to be created from two smaller existing bathrooms.
The effort also will work to restore the exterior of the church building and replace the building’s HVAC system.
“It will take care of the humidity problem and any issues that we have there with artifacts,” Rupp said.
The HVAC system replacement can be split as the current system is comprised of four units but will cost over $600,000. She projects with the mason work, phase two will top $850,000.
In an effort to show their own support for the project, Rupp said the board, reflecting the desire of the community to save the building, has already donated over $30,000 to the effort.
“They all decided that they're going to be all behind it, 100 percent,” she said.
A ramp purchase with funds from the Heartland Community Foundation that adds accessibility to the adjacent stone church, Rupp said, also is scheduled to be installed soon.
With the plan outlined, she said details can be finalized while fundraising is ongoing.
“We are in the planning stages, but we have our preliminary drawing set for the construction part,” Rupp said. “We have the contractors ready to go for the outside stonework. So that's all in place, just waiting our turn in the rotation when they come back there.”
As efforts continue on the main campus, Rupp also said work is ongoing to give the society storage space and a satellite campus in Victoria in the former rest home, now known as St. John’s Place.
“We are still working on that,” Rupp said. “When it goes silent, a little bit people assume or get a little nervous, but we are still working on that with the (Victoria Community Coalition.) So hopefully, we will have that ready to go, and we can then move some of our artifacts because part of that building will be storage.”
At the meeting, she announced a gift to the society had been made that would help that project move forward.
Philanthropist Don Bickle gave $50,000 to the society for the project, Rupp said.
“I had been visiting with him about how the museum started and their mission back then,” she said.“After many years of doing other things, we have earned his support once again.”
Once the storage space there has been secured, she said opening a gallery space would fall into place quickly.
“I would say within a year, we could get in there and open it,” Rupp said.