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Kandiyohi County Historical Society seeking $343,000 for expansion

Larry Macht , a member of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society board, tells the Kandiyohi?County Commissioners of the pressing need for additional education and meeting space at the Willmar museum. "We know finances are tight," Macht said, but the expansion will "make it easier for people to learn about the history of the county." The museum attracts 8,000 visitors a year. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- Sitting in the middle of artifacts and displays Tuesday afternoon in the main display area of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society in Willmar, the Kandiyohi County Commissioners heard about the need for additional education and meeting space at the museum.

"You'll be amazed with the limited space we have," said Jerry Johnson, president of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society.

With at least 8,000 visitors a year coming to the museum -- including 400 schoolchildren -- and more than 25,000 historical items, the tight quarters make it difficult to meet the goal to "make it easier for people to learn about the history of the county," said Larry Macht, a member of the Kandiyohi County Historical Society board.

The volunteer board is kicking off an effort to raise $343,000 to construct a 42-by-42-foot multipurpose room onto the west side of the museum and the county commissioners were the first on the list to hear the request.

"We know finances are tight," said Macht, adding that he hopes the county will consider providing additional funds for the building campaign.

He didn't ask for a specific amount from the county, but said the Kandiyohi County Historical Society has kept its past requests for county funds in check.

The county provides annual operating funds to the Historical Society and also provides outdoor maintenance such as snow removal and lawn mowing. This year the county allocated $55,100 to the society.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said the County Board of Commissioners will begin shaping the 2013 budget in July and the Historical Society should make a formal request for funds then.

On Thursday, representatives from townships, the city of Willmar and other cities in the county have been invited to hear about the construction proposal and will be asked to consider a financial donation.

That meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the museum.

On May 10, the public is invited to an open house beginning at 7 p.m. to hear about the project. The Historical Society will be seeking donations and pledges from the public as well.

Macht said it's hoped that financial commitments will be secured to cover 100 percent of the estimated cost so that construction can begin this fall.

They already have about $80,000 in the building fund.

If all goes according to plans, it would be completed sometime next year.

Macht said the estimated cost includes furnishings as well as the cost to move the school house farther west, closer to the Sperry House, to make space for the multipurpose room. He said it will fit the space well and won't be a "sore thumb" stuck onto the museum, which is located at 601 Highway 71 N.W. in Willmar.

The commissioners made no promises for extra funds, but they didn't say no.

Commissioner Dennis Peterson said the project is "worthwhile" but said he didn't know where the money would come from.

Macht said the county's past support has helped the Kandiyohi County Historical Society be what it is today, which he said is a "respected historical society in the state."

The commissioners also encouraged the Historical Society talk to Willmar legislators, Sen. Joe Gimse and Rep. Bruce Vogel, about the possibility of receiving so-called Legacy funds from the state -- funds generated by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that was approved by voters in 2008.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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