Johnson County Museum restricts exhibits for a few weeks

04/01/2014 5:43 PM

04/01/2014 5:44 PM

Visitors will be limited and parts of some exhibits will be closed at the Johnson County Museum for the next few weeks as work crews begin to get rid of mold that was discovered in two hallways last June.

The mold removal and repair project means only 49 visitors at a time can be in the KidScape exhibit, which is one of the most popular in the museum, said museum director Mindi Love. Parts of other exhibits, including “Seeking the Good Life,” the 1930s section on “Building the Suburbs” and the last exhibit about modern Johnson County, also will be temporarily closed. Also, wheelchair access to KidScape will not be available.

The mold is only the latest moisture-related problem to hit the museum, 6305 Lackman Road in Shawnee. In 2009, flooding rendered the basement unusable as a place where employees and volunteers can work. Now it’s used for storage.

The original building dates to 1927, but there are several additions. The latest mold, which is not related to the basement flood, is in an area built in the 1960s or ’70s.

As late as last fall, the museum staff had been looking forward to relocating to the former King Louie bowling alley at 8788 Metcalf Ave. The county commission bought that building in 2011 and then did preliminary work to stabilize it for rehab.

But in November, those plans fell through when the commission decided not to issue the bonds needed to begin preparing the building for occupancy.

Now plans for both the King Louie and a museum relocation are in limbo, with no clear consensus from the commission on what to do with either building.

The loss of that basement work space increased the urgency of finding a new home for the museum, said Joe Waters, the county’s facilities manager. But some commissioners have said they want to look at the idea of moving museum exhibits into the county’s libraries as a way to solve the museum’s space problems.

The latest mold problem will cost about $40,000 to fix, Waters said. But even if a museum move was imminent, the mold would still have to be removed to make the old building sellable, he said.

The county spends a significant amount on upkeep of the 17,500-square-foot building each year, Waters said. Over the past five years, upkeep on the building has cost a total of around $200,000.

And with water problems in an old structure, that spending is expected to continue. There will be a need for just over $700,000 to maintain the building over the next five years, he said.

“It’s not the courthouse, but for a building of its size, it’s like, yikes,” Waters said.

The repair project started March 24 and is expected to take six weeks. Crews will remove and replace drywall, insulation and studs in the hallways that connect the museum’s additions.

The construction, which involves sealing off parts of the museum with plastic sheeting, is “an inconvenience, but manageable,” Love said. Traffic has been heavy enough that visitors had to be limited from the first day. But visitors have been understanding about the reasons for the short wait, she said.

The mold was discovered at the museum between the interior and exterior walls last June, Waters said. The problem was caused by moisture coming in from around the roof’s guttering and from insufficient wicking of condensation away from the stone exterior, he said.

But visitors have never been in any health danger, Waters said. The county began monitoring for mold spores as soon as the mold was detected, and the readings have all been well within air quality regulations, he said. Waters said he has not heard of any complaints of respiratory problems from visitors sensitive to mold.

The workers are taking every precaution with the mold abatement, which will take the first two weeks of the project, he said. Air from the area will not recirculate into the rest of the museum and will be vented outside the building.

The lag time between discovery of the mold and its removal was so the county could assess how big an area was affected and find and fix the causes, Waters said. Then a plan had to be arrived at that would be least disruptive to the museum.

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