VALPARAISO | An agreement to lease the former police station to the Porter County Heritage Corp. was approved Thursday, and the rent for the next 25 years was paid.
The Board of Public Works and Safety approved the lease, which will allow the heritage corporation, which owns the artifacts in the current museum, to open a museum of history, arts and science in the space in fall 2014. Cost of the lease was $1, which Porter County Museum Executive Director Kevin Pazour immediately paid.
Pazour said the corporation board needs to raise about $2 million to renovate the almost 130-year-old building. City Administrator Bill Oeding said the building qualifies to receive a facade grant that would pay for half the cost of redoing the front of the building up to a maximum of $25,000.
Pazour said the facade will be returned to something close to the original appearance. The interior will have higher ceilings to accommodate large displays, such as one of the original stagecoaches used by Broncho John, a former Valparaiso resident who operated a Wild West show a century ago.
"It's about time a great community had a great museum," Pazour said. "My goal is to tell the story of the people who lived here. Some of them didn't stay here, but they've gone out and done wonderful things. I was surprised in coming here we didn't already have a great museum.
"For a community that prides itself on its history, there's no place that shows that. Think of all the schoolchildren and individuals that may never have an opportunity to visit another museum. We can truly be a gem in everyone's backyard. Regardless, it certainly is an exciting time in our museum's history."
Although the opening is more than two years away, Pazour already is thinking of two years beyond that. That's when the new museum will be eligible for, and Pazour plans to pursue, a prestigious award from the Institute for Museum and Library Science.
The IMLS annually awards a medal to institutions that "make significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. Selected institutions demonstrate extraordinary and innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach," according to the IMLS website.
Although it will compete with museums of all sizes in the country, Pazour said other small museums in Indiana have won the award and provide an example the Valparaiso museum can follow. Having a new museum doesn't mean the Old Jail Museum will be abandoned, he said.
He plans to revamp it into a museum focusing on various periods in the city's history. Each room will be decorated to represent life during a particular decade and will feature stories of people and their lives from that time. The exhibits would change over time to feature different decades.