- Associated Press - Monday, June 9, 2014

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - The Idaho State Historical Museum will soon undergo an expansion that will add about 13,000-square feet of exhibit space, allowing objects that have been in storage to go on display.

However, the work will close the museum in Boise for about three years.

“We’re telling people this summer is their last chance to see the museum ‘as it was,’” Museum Director Jody Ochoa tells the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1uKBkK8 ).

The museum, which began its life in 1881 as a small exhibition of pioneer artifacts in Boise City Hall, will close on Aug. 4 and reopen sometime in 2017. Crews will spend the next four or five months moving artifacts out of the 1950s-era building Julia Davis Park and into storage.

Visitors before the closure will get a last look at the well-known Boise Chinatown exhibits that are largely as they were in the 1970s, and a last look at the current arrangement of the massive Brunswick bar that anchors the building’s second floor. In the new plan, the bar will move to an expanded public area and event space on the first floor. Other possible additions include an outdoor public space featuring rehabilitated neon and electric signs that once glowed throughout Boise. The signs are courtesy of Signs of the Times, a local group devoted to saving the pop-culture artifacts.

The expansion will cost $7 million in state funds. The nonprofit Friends of the Historical Museum and the Old Idaho Penitentiary will raise another $3 million for exhibitions and technology.

The layout of the museum after the expansion hasn’t been determined, but Ochoa says they plan a whole new look.

“We’re planning for a whole new palette, a whole new context,” said Ochoa.

The museum has been making yearly requests to the state for the money to expand, but the recession and struggling economy put the project on the backburner for several years.

“We were shocked when we learned we were getting the money for the project,” said Ochoa.

Retired Sen. Denton Darrington, a former history teacher in Burley and a member of the Division of Public Works Permanent Building Fund Advisory Council, was a longtime champion of the efforts to renovate the museum.

“The process did take around five or six years, but when the right plan came along, it sailed through,” said Darrington.

He recognizes that the expansion will inconvenience visitors, and students will miss going to the museum.

“But it’s like building a road. You can’t have a road without some inconvenience,” Darrington said. “People need to realize that what we do today is tomorrow’s history.”

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