New museum targeting fall 2009 opening
California State Parks is scheduled to begin construction next spring on a new museum at Donner Memorial State Park ” and open the new facility’s doors the following fall.
Called the High Sierra Crossing Museum, the proposed, 9,100-square-foot building will replace the aging Emigrant Trail Museum in the state park. Construction will last two seasons, and will likely require the park service to close the current museum over the summer months.
“The new museum will not just tell the story of the pioneers, of the Donner Party, but will also tell the story of the natives, the railroad, resources and the development of California,” Robin Ettinger, a state parks project manager, informed Truckee Town Council at its Oct. 30 meeting. “The main theme will be the tension between the barrier and crossing.”
The state parks sector superintendent for the Truckee-Tahoe area, Susan Grove, said the museum would more comprehensively cover Truckee’s history in transcontinental travel.
“We understand that one of the main reasons people come to that location is for the Donner Party, but we want to try and tell a broader story as well,” Grove said.
Plans for the new museum call for it to be located closer to Donner Pass Road than the current building, but Ettinger said the museum would still emphasize the Donner monument in its exhibits.
Other improvements include changes to the parking lot to accommodate recreational vehicles and buses, and two driveways off Donner Pass Road ” one for the museum and one for the campgrounds, to reduce the backup that forms on busy weekends, Ettinger said.
The building itself, estimated to cost between $5 and $5.5 million, will be built using Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design green-building practices, he said.
“We want to make this building as energy-efficient as possible,” Ettinger said.
The parks system will also plant additional trees to screen the museum from the road and from planned development to the east, he said. Currently California State Parks planners are working on design drawings, which should be completed by the end of the year, after which the project will go out to bid, Ettinger said.
“Construction should begin May 2008 and last two seasons,” Ettinger said. “It should be complete by early-summer 2009, and open in September 2009.”
During construction, Ettinger said the existing museum will have to be closed for four to five months in the summer of 2008 for liability concerns. In planning for the closure, Grove said it became clear that the current museum receives a large number of visitors.
“Looking at May 15 to October 15, we get on average 38,500 individual visitors, 50 school groups with about 3,300 people, and 44 tour buses with 1,600 people,” Grove said. “The museum is open year-round and it’s surprisingly busy, but summer is definitely the peak.”
California State Parks has chosen not to renovate the existing museum, which is now more than 40 years old, because of size, structural issues, lack of Americans with Disabilities Act access, and maintenance and energy costs, said Project Manager Robin Ettinger.
When the new museum is completed, the old building will be used for office space initially, and then removed some time after that, he said.
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