Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum to undergo renovation

Posted on by az100

by Kevin Kiley – Aug. 11, 2010 12:00 AM
The Arizona Republic

One of Arizona’s educational gems is about to become a piece of history.

Over the next few years, the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in Phoenix, a popular destination for schoolchildren and tourists, is slated to be transformed into the Arizona Centennial Museum, designed to celebrate 100 years of statehood.

The new museum, conceived by Gov. Jan Brewer’s office, will spotlight Arizona’s Five C’s: cattle, copper, cotton, citrus and climate, which are credited with providing the economic structure to develop the state.

slideshow Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum

“We really want it to tell the story of the state,” said Anne Woosley, executive director of the Arizona Historical Society, which will oversee the museum. “And that is the story of diverse landscapes and rich natural resources creating opportunities for enterprising people.”

The Historical Society took over responsibility for the museum in July thanks to a state law. It will have about two years to renovate the museum in time for the Feb. 14, 2012, centennial.

While planning is in its early stages with numerous mountains to climb – including finding the potential $9 million it may take to complete the renovations – supporters have high hopes for what it could become.

But a small, vocal group of opponents says the state is breaking down one of its greatest resources for a project that faces an uphill battle to generate enough funding.

The current museum, dating to 1917, houses a collection of more than 3,000 gemstones, other rocks and minerals, and numerous exhibits about mining in state history.

It sees about 56,000 visitors a year, about half of whom are schoolchildren on field trips.

Curator Jan Rasmussen said exhibits are designed based on the state’s science curriculum to cater to teachers who might not be able to teach Earth science on their own.

The Centennial Museum will be part of a year of events and activities to celebrate the state’s 100-year anniversary.

Historical Society leaders sat down with the governor, business leaders and a design firm about a year ago to discuss the museum’s new layout. They want the renovated museum to have wider appeal but include components of the mineral museum.

“It broadens what is there now,” Woosley said. “In addition to mining and minerals, we’re looking at all the foundations of statehood.”

Gallagher & Associates, a museum-design firm with offices in Maryland and California, has been working with the state to design the museum.

Renovations will be paid for by private donations. The Centennial 2012 Foundation, which is overseeing several projects for the anniversary, is working to become a non-profit organization to encourage giving.

Organizers admit the $9 million estimate for renovations could balloon.

Karen Churchland, director of the Centennial 2012 Foundation, said the group is working out fundraising details but hopes to have more concrete plans in October. She thinks the commission will be able to generate the bulk of funds through corporate giving, private donations and a few public drives but might struggle because of the economy.

Churchland said the group will have a better sense of its fundraising prospects before any work begins.

While changes are still in their planning stages, groups already have started opposing the new museum.

A group of mining museum supporters argues that the change will hurt the state culturally and financially.

“The museum that is there right now is worth much more to the state than anything that could replace it,” said Richard Zimmerman, who maintains a blog that questions the decision to change the museum.

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