Dakota County’s history museum — a 1970s building that officials described as “dark” and “dated,” with the ambience of a gymnasium — could see a major overhaul in the next five years.
County staff proposed spending more than $3 million to redo the inside of the Lawshe Memorial Museum, located across from South St. Paul’s City Hall, to attract more visitors.
Museum attendance dropped 25 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to a study of the property. Improving the museum’s exhibits and increasing attendance could help the Dakota County Historical Society raise its profile and become a regional draw, the study said.
The nonprofit Historical Society operates the museum, but the county owns the building. The society will weigh in Saturday on plans for the space, and county officials will use that feedback when deciding if and how to proceed.
Officials are considering two options for the 37-year-old building. The first is estimated to cost nearly $3.3 million and includes moving staff workspace from the second to the first level, adding more archive storage on the second floor and reducing the size of the so-called Great Hall.
The massive hall was designed to hold a replica of a two-story structure. That was never added, and now the high-ceilinged room resembles a basketball court, said James O’Shea, an architect with Collaborative Design Group, who studied the space.
The second option would keep staff offices upstairs and add a kids’ zone on the first level. It could cost about $3.7 million, according to preliminary estimates.
Both options include new multipurpose space for community use, more natural light and accessibility improvements to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In addition to the interior changes, Commissioner Kathleen Gaylord said the building needs more information or items displayed outside to let people know that it’s a museum.
“It’s a nice building, but you don’t really see it,” Gaylord said.