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Museum nears funding milestone

Museum nears funding milestone

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The Benton County Historical Society is closing in on a major fundraising milestone in its 15-year quest to build a new museum in downtown Corvallis.

Donors have given about $938,000 toward a $1 million challenge issued by longtime museum supporters Pete and Rosalie Johnson, the society’s executive director, Irene Zenev, said Monday. If another $62,000 can be raised by the end of the month, the Johnsons will match the $1 million with a $1 million gift of their own.

“We’re very confident we’ll get there” by the Feb. 28 deadline laid down for the challenge grant, Zenev said.

The additional $2 million would bring the total amount raised toward the new museum to about $4.5 million, roughly half the total needed to complete the $9.06 million project.

Reaching the halfway point of the capital campaign is crucial, Zenev said, because it allows the historical society to approach large charitable foundations about grant funding to complete the project.

“We can start construction on the project when we have 80 percent of the money (roughly $7.25 million) in hand,” Zenev said. “So we have only $2.7 million left to raise and we can start.”

If enough grant funding can be obtained to begin construction, Zenev said, that should generate momentum for a public capital campaign to raise the remaining amount needed to complete the job.

She’s hopeful the work will begin in 2017, which should allow the finished museum to open its doors to the public in 2018.

Plans for the new museum, designed by Allied Works Architecture of Portland, call for a two-story, 16,000-square-foot building with a distinctive modern look. The building will have high-ceilinged galleries, flexible exhibit space, a pair of courtyards and a museum store. It also will house administrative offices, some combination storage and display space, and a room for education and special events.

It’s been a long time getting to this point.

When the former Copeland Lumber property at Southwest Second Avenue and Adams Street came on the market in 1999, the Benton County Historical Society moved quickly to raise nearly $1 million to buy the land for a new museum. But even though more than 15 years has elapsed since then without breaking ground on the new building, Zenev points out that the society has completed a number of preliminary steps in that time.

Other milestones along the way include demolishing the old Copeland Lumber building, acquiring the 60,000-item Horner Collection from OregonState University and building a state-of-the-art collections storage facility adjoining the society’s headquarters in Philomath. Added to the initial land purchase, costs associated with those activities totaled more than $4.5 million, Zenev noted.

The society sold off a portion of the downtown Corvallis property for a proposed riverfront hotel for about $2 million, but that still left a lot of fundraising to do before the new museum could be built.

“Our little organization has really accomplished a lot,” Zenev said.

“And we have such great support from our donors. They see the value of having that cultural living room downtown and having that landmark building.”

Reporter Bennett Hall can be reached at 541-758-9529 or bennett.hall@lee.net.

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