Among the hundreds of local treasures preserved and displayed by the Livingston County Historical Society and Museum, the building that holds them may be the most important artifact of all. It’s easy to forget that Geneseo’s delicate Wadsworth family stagecoach or the collections of arrowheads and war memorabilia are actually positioned in spaces that were once classrooms of the District #5 Union School, a cross-shaped schoolhouse serving local children from 1838-1932.
The schoolhouse has been a historical museum for roughly 80 years. While its ideal location on Center Street makes it easily accessible to the college and the community, the age of the building presents difficulties for day-to-day functioning of the museum space.
Museum Administrator Anna Kowalchuck presented a plan to address these difficulties to the community on Feb. 23 in conjunction with Geneseo historian David Parish and Virginia Searl from Bero Architecture PLLC.
The major goals of Kowalchuck’s Facilities Master Plan include creating an on-site artifact storage facility, improving flow between exhibit spaces, installing environmental controls for object-preservation and visitor comfort and improving handicap accessibility to the museum.
“It’s a project that has been decades in the making,” Kowalchuck said. “They’re big problems and they need big solutions.”
The presenters revealed a rendering of the planned construction, which includes a large addition to the back of the schoolhouse meant to lengthen the lifespan of the artifacts, improve visitor experience and create a new space for museum interns to work.
Kowalchuck estimated that the project will take at least five years to execute, requiring a budget of about $1.8 million. She plans to seek funding from grant-giving organizations, museum foundations, community members and legislators.
The aim of the Museum Planning for the Future presentation was to engage the public in discussion about the museum’s proposed makeover, generating support and understanding for the decision to improve the building. Kowalchuck said she believes the plan was well received by those in attendance and that she hopes they will spread the word to other community members.
“I think it’s something that people kind of have to digest,” she said. “This is a very open process. We want the whole community to think that this is a great idea and be excited … that people have a buy in.”
Kowalchuck hopes that improvements to the space will also make it more popular among college students, both as a casual learning experience and a professional development opportunity for those interested in pursuing museum work as a career. While the museum currently offers a series of internships to students each semester, the new and remodeled spaces will create new internship experiences for students. Even for those who don’t work as interns, the renovations will improve students’ opportunity to learn about the history of their four-year surrogate home.
“We hope that more college students and their families will come up and learn about their sense of place,” Kowalchuck said.