Big changes are coming to Buckley Hall this spring, thanks to the long-running partnership between the city and the Foothills Historical Society.
A total of $90,000 will be invested into Buckley Hall; the Buckley City Council approved a bill last month stipulating half will come from the city, and half from the Historical Society.
The upgrades, which will include new flooring and lighting, are intended to give the public more use of the event space, and the strapped-for-space Historical Society more room to work — after four decades of collecting stories and artifacts to “connect people to their past,” volunteers are running out of space at the Buckley Historical Museum to work and store items.
“It’s at a point now where it’s dangerous to work where we are,” Historical Society treasurer Jean Contreras said. “Right now our office space is so small that with three of us working in there, two have to stand up for the third to get out.”
Before partnering with the city, the Historical Society considered constructing an additional building next door to the current museum. Instead, they’ve partnered with the city in a cost share agreement to refurbish the 6,000-square foot Buckley Hall just across the street. As per that agreement, the Historical Society will be able to use part of it for their operations.
To be clear, the city isn’t giving Buckley Hall to the Historical Society. The partnership won’t interfere with the various groups that currently use the hall, like the Buckley Kiwanis food bank, the Boy Scouts and yoga classes, and the public will still be able to rent the facility as per usual.
The Historical Society’s portion of the renovation money will be raised through fundraising dinners, yard sales, memberships, donations and savings. The city had already set aside money in its general fund budget to replace the flooring and improve acoustics at Buckley Hall, and raised additional revenue for more work via the recent sale of the Buckley Farm and Feed Store, City Administrator Paul Weed said.
The improvements already planned include:
• Putting in new vinyl and carpeted flooring and upgrades to the electrical system in the main hall, foyer and museum office space.
• Building a partition in the foyer to create office space for the Historical Society. The other side of the partition will serve for meetings, workshops, and will be available for rent by the public, too.
• Building another partition in the west side of the building to create a storage space for the food bank and the museum.
• Upgrading a small outside addition on the north side of the building to serve as “desperately” needed storage. New insulation and drywall will be required to weather-proof the space, in order to protect some of the physically sensitive archives the Historical Society keeps. (That work will be done at the Historical Society’s expense, Contreras said.)
• Creating new millwork and doors.
The Buckley city council is set to award the bid for the project during their April 13 meeting, according to the council meeting agenda. The city recommended the council award the bid to Trinity Remodel and Excavating LLC.
Weed estimated the renovation would start by the end of April. The intent is to finish the work by May, provided the project doesn’t encounter any unforeseen hiccups.
“We’re dying to get started,” Contreras said, because the renovations will open up room for all kinds of Historical Society activities at both locations.
A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY
The all-volunteer run Foothills Historical Society collects stories and artifacts of Buckley, Wilkeson, Carbonado and other communities all the way to the Mount Rainier National Park. The museum carries maps, photographs, newspapers from the 19th century, and a variety of other exhibits.
“It helps people connect to their past,” Contreras said. “There’s an awful lot of people whose families have roots in this community that go back over 100 years. … For new people, it allows a place for them to place for them to come and learn about their community.”
Due to concerns over rising COVID-19 infection rates, the historical society decided last week to keep the museum closed until May and reassess at that time, Contreras said.
Contreras said the Historical Society is mulling holding a special event at the end of Memorial Day weekend as a sort of “soft” re-opening. Up-to-date information will be available at their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/foothillshistoricalmuseum.
Because the Historical Society is too small to operate the museum seven days a week, it’s an unofficial tourist center, Contreras said. Funds from the city’s hotel-motel tax cover insurance, utilities and major repairs, while the volunteers raise money to handle the day-to-day operations and programming.
It’s a symbiotic relationship, and many museums flounder or die altogether without help from their home city, Contreras said.
“The city council has been very supportive of the museum over these years,” she said. “We appreciate that a lot.”
Like the museum, Buckley Hall would not have survived if not for the hard work of volunteers, Contreras continued. The city of Buckley originally intended to tear the building down after obtaining it and many other River Avenue properties in 1981, when Burlington Northern Railroad gave up on and tore out a rail line there.
Instead, the then-newly formed Historical Society successfully lobbied to preserve and renovate Buckley Hall. Around the same time, they acquired a former funeral home across the street and restored it into the Foothills Museum.
“This museum would never have happened without a very dedicated bunch of local people,” Contreras said. “Some of them have been working on it since day one in 1981.”