A recently completed feasibility study shows it will take nearly $3 million to transform the Old Federal Building in downtown Seymour into a city museum.
Much of the demolition work and some repairs and renovation already have been completed by the museum board of directors, under the leadership of Lenny Hauersperger, and volunteers.
Christine Matheu and Chris Floyd with Matheu Architects of Bloomington presented the findings of the feasibility study and shared schematic or preliminary designs with city council members and the public Monday night.
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With the feasibility study and blueprints complete, the project is now eligible for larger grant opportunities, said Trena Carter, manager of municipal programs with Administrative Resources association.
Museum board members and city officials hope the project will be successful in obtaining bigger community block grants through the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs and the Indiana Historical Society along with corporate sponsors to help pay for the work.
The building is located at Third and Chestnut streets and served as Seymour’s first post office in 1918 before becoming city hall in the 1960s and the police station in the 1990s.
In 1995, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It has sat empty and unused since 2007. But during that time, the Seymour Museum board has restored most of the building’s windows, replaced the roof and renovated the old postmaster’s office and clerk-treasurer’s office on the west side of the first floor.
Floyd said the exterior of the building, which is made of limestone, is in pretty good shape, and is need of only minor work, including tuckpointing and repair of chips and cracks.
He said there are still some windows that need to be restored or replaced. But one area that needs attention is the lower level. Floyd said there is a lot of water that accumulates in the basement.
“We recommend soil borings be done to determine if there is a presence of ground water,” he said. “If there is groundwater, we recommend an under-slab drainage system as part of the project.”
As far as the interior goes, Floyd said there are still a lot of historic finishes that remain in the building.
“Most of those need quite a bit of repair,” he said. “So we would be restoring and rehabilitating those as part of the project.”
There will be new spaces and rooms created as well to make the layout work as a museum, he added.
The building also will require all new electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems and it will have to be brought up to code in terms of handicapped accessibility.
Matheu said design goals for the interior of the building are to house an artifact collection in the museum, composed of model trains and local railroad memorabilia, the Welch telephone collection which was donated to the city and exhibits related to the historic figures of Seymour, early settlers, music, arts and crafts, natural wildlife, and history of local industry.
There also will be temporary exhibits on display.
Additional rooms will be needed for artifact intake and registration, storage and maintenance.
“It also became clear in envisioning the museum that the building should act as a community hub for the city of Seymour,” Matheu said. “Everyone we talked to wants to have a cafe in the building and a place where people can gather in an informal way.”
Another part of the visitor experience would be a gift shop. Other operational spaces would include administrative offices and a volunteers room.
“The important thing we have found that is going to be a draw to the building is the fact that the building is an architectural icon for the city of Seymour,” she said.
“In the plans, we are trying to retain the essence of the building as an historical artifact itself.”
Matheu said the staircase when you first walk into the main entrance of the building should be taken out because it is not original to the building.
“We are suggesting that be replaced with a central stair which will run from the basement level all the way up to the second floor and therefore connect all three floors with a visual impact, and make you feel as if you are in one building,” she said.
The main floor would be kept open and would display temporary exhibits to draw people in and would be an area for presentations with a movie screen and projector to show films related to the history of Seymour and historical films in general.
A café and gift shop would be located on the first floor on the left as you enter and the back of the main level would be for administrative offices and a multipurpose room.
The second floor would house the railroad exhibit.
“This would be considered a live exhibit,” Matheu said. “The people in the railroad club would actually be building the exhibit and the public could actually watch them do that and participate in that experience in some way.”
Old jail cells are located in the building’s large basement and the museum board has requested they be kept as part of the exhibits.
“In addition to that there would be a major exhibit related to networking and communications and that’s where the telephone exhibit would occur,” she said of the lower flow. “There would also be exhibits related to the other subjects.”
Many of the exhibits will be interactive.
“One of the things that came out loud and clear when we met with community members is that they really want hands-on exhibitions with technology as part of it,” she said.
Matheu said it will be up to the museum board to decide whether admission to the museum will be free or if there will be a cost.
“There’s been a lot of discussion as to how the building will really serve school groups,” she said. “We have in fact a plan for an area for preschoolers because parents who have preschoolers at home actually love places like museums for their children to go there during the week.”
Besides school groups, Matheu said museums are a good way to attract out of town visitors to the city and are a good place for businesses to hold special events.
Due to the size of the building, Matheu said the exhibits have to be focused.
“Otherwise, you’re going to have a little bit of everything and it’s going to feel like somebody’s attic,” she said.
“And that’s really not the idea behind the museum. The goal is to choose a few things that are really important to the community of Seymour and to capitalize on those and bring them into the 21st century.”
Financial donations to support the renovation of the Old Federal Building in downtown Seymour into a city museum may be mailed to Seymour Museum Inc., 220 N. Chestnut St., P.O. Box 1138, Seymour IN 47274.