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Boards discuss museum co-location
December 15, 2011 Jerry Purvis   

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Discussions are underway about the possible relocation of the North Platte Valley Museum, currently located adjacent to Oregon Trail Park, to the site of the Farm And Ranch Museum. The Gering Parks, Cemetery and Tree

In November 2011, the boards of the North Platte Valley Museum (NPVM) and the Farm And Ranch Museum (FARM) agreed to a resolution that would co-locate the museums at a single location.

Initial discussion began in 2007 when the City of Gering expressed an interest in the NPVM site, adjacent to Oregon Trail Park, as a location for the city parks maintenance department.

Last week, the boards of both museums met and agreed the best solution would be to move NPVM to the FARM site just east of the Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Katie Bradshaw, NPVM executive director, told the boards that co-location would result in more efficiency as both museums could share some services, such as volunteers. It would also make both museums a one-stop destination for tourists.

“There’s a vision out there that combining the strengths of these two organizations would create a world-class museum experience that would be the premiere heritage destination in the region – something bigger than ourselves,” Bradshaw said.

She added there are many links between the stories that each museum tells, from the westward migration to the development of towns and the story of agriculture in the valley.

“One of our main strengths is our volunteers who are dedicated to our organizations,” Bradshaw said. “The volunteer base has expertise that many places don’t – like how to make tractors work.”

FARM board member Nancy Haney agreed that co-locating both museums would strengthen the mission of both as she mentioned the 4-H motto, “To make the best better.”

Haney said what brought the discussion forward again was when they were contacted by the Gering Parks, Cemetery and Tree Board. That board wanted to know where NPVM and FARM were at in the co-location process, as they wanted to recommend to the city council to have the parks maintenance staff in a new building by the winter of 2012.

Visitation at the North Platte Valley Museum averages between 5,000 and 7,000 a year, primarily during the tourism season. And while attendance at the Farm And Ranch Museum as increased in recent years, the current annual average is about 10,000. Last year, Scotts Bluff National Monument recorded 120,000 visitors.
Haney said the co-located museums would be closer to the Monument and could take better advantage of the increase tourism traffic.

Former NPVM board member Ken Harvey had some concerns whether the two museums would merge into a single organization, something the board opposed a few years ago. He also asked how the space issue would be resolved to locate the facility and whether each museum would remain financially independent.

“The big thing that everyone should be concerned about is money,” Harvey said. “Three years ago, we estimated it would cost about one or two million dollars to accomplish the entire move and build new facilities. Our museum doesn’t take in a whole lot of money.”

The two board presidents, Bill Booker of FARM and Jodi Ruzicka of NPVM, said the proposed move is still in the discussion stage and that concerns over finances and buildings will need to be worked out.

“If we hadn’t stepped out on a limb and borrowed the money, we wouldn’t have the Farm And Ranch Museum today,” said museum treasurer Dennis Wiedeman. “People aren’t willing to donate unless they see something tangible.”

A new North Platte Valley Museum would also provide the needed space to display some of the collection that’s currently in storage. And with more room, more events could be scheduled.

“The Gering Kiwanis schedules a lot of events at FARM because there’s no room at North Platte Valley,” said Susan Wiedeman. “We need to think of what could be because now is the time to do it. We need to make this an experience that people from all over will what to come to. This could be a huge opportunity for us and could be a big economic development tool.”

Moderators of the discussion then asked for an informal vote of attendees as to whether they would support the idea of a co-location.

Colin Croft, former NPVM board member, said he couldn’t make a decision based on aspirations. “No one in this room would vote against the vision, but that’s assuming we wave a magic wand and make it happen. I’m kind of disappointed we don’t have more specifics before we ask people to make a decision of this magnitude.”

However, both board presidents said more specifics will be available in the first quarter of 2012.
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