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McDuffie Museum renovations hit small snags, but move along as officials prepare for Smithsonian display

Although there's a lot of demolition going on, the future McDuffie Museum on Main Street in Thomson is really taking shape.

"It's amazing to see the progress that's being made," said Mary Anne Coussons, the executive director of Camellia Partners for Success. "This has now become a passion with so many people. It's always been a passion with the board members, but now it's spreading."

And that contagion is what the architect has been waiting for. Plans for the museum began eight years ago when a group of local individuals dedicated to preserving history met to appoint a board and to arrange initial groundwork. Since then, two buildings were donated, a consulting firm was hired, plans were made and a capital campaign brought in funds. Robert Mauldin, the principal architect for 2km Architects, said his firm has held "numerous meetings" with the museum board pursuing different concepts.

"The focus today is to get our current basket fixed up so we can put some eggs in it," he said in a telephone interview with The McDuffie Mirror. "And then later be able to expand that service as the momentum builds and the enthusiasm for the museum and support for the exhibits build."

Demolition is going slow but steady, according to Jeff Cowart of Two State Construction Company. In a recent press conference, Mr. Cowart said lead paint and asbestos removal involves several steps that must be followed precisely, but is a common situation for buildings built during the time of the old Sun Trust bank building which will house the museum.

Because the museum is scheduled to host the Smithsonian Institute traveling exhibit, Key Ingredients, in January 2009, renovations are on a tight schedule.

"It's very doable," Mr. Mauldin said, adding that they are behind with the final designs because the demolition has revealed some extra surprises. "But we have a jump on getting the bare bones done while we are waiting for the design work."

The surprises include the discovery that the bank building and the adjacent old pharmacy building are at two different elevations, meaning the floors will have to be leveled, and the bank ceiling had been lowered two times in the past, creating three different ceiling levels.

"With restoration work, as soon as you assume, then you are proven wrong," Mr. Mauldin said. "This is the type of work you do to determine the surprises. Then, if you don't have to do something, you can use the money somewhere else. But you always carry a contingency budget."

The tentative restoration budget is set at $1.2 million, with $800,000 already raised through the sale of promotional items and old bank fixtures and from foundational donations, according to Mrs. Coussons. Mrs. Coussons said former Thomson Mayor Robert Knox, Jr., is working on a large fundraiser for the museum, but details have not been finalized and she did not wish to elaborate.

Plans for the building include a small catering kitchen and meeting space. However, most of the plans are for gallery exhibits and storage.

"The board originally had very many different uses planned for the building, and that all came out of polling the community," Mr. Mauldin said. "The thing we recommended was that they try to focus more on their primary mission of being a museum."

Storage space will always be an issue, as it is with almost every museum, according to Mr. Mauldin. The museum board hopes to expand the size of the museum in the future, but the storage space is presently very limited. Mrs. Coussons said the challenge is that so many people want to donate their old historical fixtures, for which she is thankful. However, she hopes people will be considerate of the situation.

"We don't have the place to store it," she said. "We want to be a community museum, but we can't be an antique shop. So, we won't be able to take everything."

Web posted on Thursday, May 01, 2008

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