Government

Future of Iowa's State Historical Building unknown, as current space needs $50 million in repairs

Task force meets for first time to plot next steps, but few questions answered

The State of Iowa Historical Building just down the road from the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (The Gazette)
The State of Iowa Historical Building just down the road from the State Capitol Building in Des Moines on Wednesday, January 15, 2014. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — As repairs are being made on the State Historical Building, a task force ordered by legislators has opened discussions on the possibility of relocating the museum and archive of Iowa memorabilia.

Earlier this year, the Iowa Legislature called for a task force to consider relocating the building from its downtown Des Moines location to the Iowa State Fairgrounds or some other location.

The building has been beset with problems since it opened 32 years ago. Rep. Dennis Cohoon, D-Burlington, recalled there were buckets to catch dripping water when he visited it during its opening in 1987.

The most recent estimate is that it would cost the state nearly $50 million to repair the building, according to Rep. Gary Mohr, R-Bettendorf, who chaired the House Transportation, Infrastructure and Capitals Appropriations Subcommittee and is the new chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

Looking for a long-term solution, lawmakers approved a $1 million planning grant for a 10-person task force to review options for the building. Lawmakers asked the fair board to consider possibly relocating the State Historical Building to the fairgrounds.

At an initial meeting of the task force, the only thing resolved was that more information is necessary before a decision can be made on the building’s future.

“There are more questions than answers,” said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair Board secretary.

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The fair board is not campaigning for a new historical building on the fairgrounds but, in response to the Legislature, is willing to entertain proposals, he said.

The board identified three sites on the fairgrounds where it would be possible to put a new building depending on its size and footprint, Slater said. All three sites on the north side of the fairgrounds currently are parking areas. The fair board believes sites more centrally located on the fairgrounds would be impractical.

“There are lots of places it would not work on the fairgrounds,” Slater said, “but there could be some synergies in having a state facility here the rest of the year” outside the 11-day run of the state fair every August. The 2020 state fair will be Aug. 13-23.

Sara Craig, Gov. Kim Reynolds’ chief of staff, concurred that “moving the historical building to the fairgrounds is not a foregone conclusion.” The task force meeting was just the opening of a discussion, she said.

“There are repairs needed at the historical building, and before putting millions in, the Legislature wanted to look at other options,” she said. “The Legislature specifically directed the task force to look at the fairgrounds.”

The Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees the building, has done a lot of study in the past to look at various options including minimizing the footprint, tearing down the building, relocating and rebuilding.

“The roof is leaking. We’ve got to do something,” Craig said.

Department of Cultural Affairs Director Chris Kramer agrees that something has to be done, though there is no consensus on what that should be. Repairs to the roof and leaking skylights — the immediate priority for Kramer — are underway. The Legislature has appropriated more than $6 million for major maintenance on the building.

Next steps will include creating a vapor barrier and replacing the heating and air-conditioning system to better control humidity in the building, which houses close to 100,000 artifacts, 200 million documents — including Civil War muster rolls — early maps of the state and other important documents.

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Kramer hopes the task force discussion can be a “great opportunity” for the state and the future of the building — whether it remains in its present location or is relocated.

Although another meeting has not been scheduled, task force members said the next step will be an interim report to the Legislature in December. A final report is due in January.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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