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It’s been 20 years since the Benton County Historical Society purchased the former Copeland Lumber property in downtown Corvallis as the home for a future museum, and the project still isn’t finished yet.

But it’s getting really, really close.

“On Dec. 1, we get the keys to the building,” said Irene Zenev, the society’s executive director. “Then we have a minimum eight weeks of installation time (for exhibits). So we anticipate opening at the end of February or the beginning of March.”

The museum had been expected to open late last year or early this year, but the project experienced delays as well as cost increases that pushed the final price tag well above its original $9.5 million estimate.

Even though some finishing touches remain to be added, the society opened the doors for two hours on Sunday afternoon to provide a sneak preview to some of the more than 700 people whose financial contributions helped bankroll the project, which ultimately came in at $11.5 million.

As visitors streamed into the airy, tile-floored lobby, board member Alice Rampton reflected on the new museum and the work that went into getting it built.

“I think it’s going to be a great asset,” said Rampton, who spearheaded the marathon fundraising campaign for the project. “It’s taken a long time, but now it’s done — thanks to all these donors.”

The Corvallis Museum, as it’s been named, will house rotating exhibitions from the Benton County Historical Society’s collection of 120,000 artifacts, including the holdings of Oregon State University’s Horner Museum, which closed in 1995. (The Benton County Historical Museum in Philomath, where the society has its headquarters and collections storage facility, will remain open and will continue to host exhibitions as well.)

Designed by well-known museum architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture and constructed by Gerding Builders of Corvallis, the 19,000-square-foot building at 411 SW Second St. has a clean, modern look with an exterior finish of white Japanese tiles.

Tall glass windows and carefully placed skylights bring plenty of natural light inside while ensuring that exhibition spaces are shielded from direct solar rays that could damage the artifacts.

“It was a challenge to daylight it without over-daylighting it,” said facilities committee member Mike Schweizer, who added that energy-efficiency features and other design elements qualified the museum for silver status from the LEED green building program.

The expansive lobby is open to the ceiling of the two-story building, with a grand staircase leading visitors to the second floor. The interior walls are white, except for a dramatic wood-paneled accent wall behind the main staircase. The floors are a mix of ceramic tile and recycled Oregon white oak.

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Bruce the Moose, a beloved fixture of the Horner Museum, has been restored to his former glory and will be prominently displayed beside the stairs.

A gallery on the ground floor will feature images from the Historical Society’s extensive collections on TV monitors as well as themed sets of framed photographs. Visitors — including kids — also will be able to use computers to access images and information from the collections.

The Corvallis Museum’s three main galleries are located on the second floor, along with a “pocket gallery” that will house another Horner favorite, a collection of fluorescent rocks that glow in the dark.

The design also features an open-air courtyard, a museum store, and an education and event space with seating for up to 100 people, as well as a catering kitchen, conference room, offices and space for receiving and preparing exhibits.

Lori Meihoff and Joan Tanselli, two of the donors who toured the new building on Sunday, both said they have fond memories of the old Horner Museum and were looking forward to seeing some of the artifacts they remember on display once again.

“I used to go to OSU and see the museum when I was there,” Meihoff said.

“When I taught school, we used to have field trips to the Horner Museum,” Tanselli chimed in, adding: “This is going to be amazing.”

One of the first exhibitions scheduled for the new museum, titled “Hats and Chairs,” will introduce visitors to some of the significant individuals, social movements and events in local history by displaying the hats people wore (such as Gov. James Douglas McKay’s Stetson) and the things they sat on (including the organist’s bench from the Whiteside Theatre).

“A College Town” will tell the story of the many connections between Oregon State University and Corvallis through artifacts such as a stuffed beaver, a basketball signed by members of OSU’s 1986-87 men’s squad and a massive mainframe computer once used by the university.

A third exhibit will illustrate various aspects of Benton County’s history through items as diverse as a chain saw with a 9-foot bar, a crockery jug that once belonged to a Chinese railroad worker, an 1846 trunk left behind by a pioneer family and a pair of colorfully embroidered bell-bottoms that belonged to Summit resident Marjorie Posner.

Admission to the museum will cost $5 for adults, but entry will be free for anyone under 18 and for Oregon State University and Linn-Benton Community College students with ID.

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