The board of the local museum is taking the next step at looking into the best location for a permanent spot to house its operations.
Bud Baldwin, who took over as the chair of the H. Earl and Margaret Turner Clack Memorial Museum board a few months ago, said the board will hold a public session after its monthly meeting Monday to hear input about and discuss the findings of a preliminary architectural report.
“This is just kind of a follow-up,” Baldwin said. “(The report) has just kind of been lying there for a few months.”
The report's recommendation is to build a new facility — with initial cost estimated at $2.88 million and an additional $1.6 million estimated for future expansion — at a site on the bluff northwest of the local bison kill archaeological site. The proposed location, behind Triangle Communications, provides a view and easy access to the bison kill attraction.
The museum was moved from the Hill County fairgrounds to the old federal court house and post office in the 1990s. The museum foundation, citing increasing and unexpected costs and lower-than anticipated returns on its endowment, moved from that location in 2004. The museum has been housed in leased space in the Holiday Village Mall since then.
The Hill County government, which is responsible for the museum operations including the operation of the Wahkpa Chu’gn Buffalo Jump archaeological site, commissioned a study in 2009 to find the best site on which to place the museum. That included looking at three existing structures and evaluating three potential sites for a new building.
The cost of the $30,000 study was split between the county, using Community Development Block Grant funds, and the museum’s funding foundation.
Baldwin said the architect who conducted the study and wrote the report, Gary Levine of Spectrum Group Architects of Billings, will present the report during Monday’s meeting and answer questions about it. Comments from the public also will be taken.
The report said the three existing buildings evaluated were unsuitable. Problems included location, access for people with handicaps, parking, floor space and code compliance.
Of the three sites examined for construction — on the Great Northern Fairgrounds, on private property just west of the Holiday Village Mall, and on state-owned land north of the Hill County Electric and Triangle Communications offices — the top-rated site was on the state-owned land, barely edging out the fairgrounds in a rating scale.
The weighted matrix Levine used to rate the sites included, in descending priority, factors such as ease of access from U.S. Highway 2, site visibility, parking, access to Wahkpa Chu’gn, the suitability of the soils, size of the site, cost to acquire the site, availability of utilities and expense to develop roads, parking and the site for construction. The lower the rating, the more desirable the site.
The state-owned land rated a 99, just edging out the fairgrounds at 100. The privately owned land received a rating of 107.
Levine said in his report that one of the largest factors in selecting the preferred site was its proximity to the bison kill site. In addition to providing easier access and promotion for that site, it also will ease staffing and operating both the museum and the archaeological site, he said.
Levine cited problems at the fairgrounds regarding a high water content and high soil salinity, but noted that it warranted further investigation.
No costs were listed in the report as to acquiring the land for the state-owned or privately owned sites.
Baldwin said he is not aware of any negotiations with the state about buying or gaining an easement to use its property.
The photograph showing the sites indicates access to the preferred site would be from U.S. Highway 2, running across the Hill County Electric and Triangle Communications property and across the state land to the museum. No description of negotiations or costs of acquiring access or building the road to the museum are included in the report.