- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 16, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - The head of the department that oversees Iowa’s flagship history museum said Wednesday that the building is in serious need of repairs, with a leaky ceiling and a crumbling exterior, and will require financial help from the Legislature in the years ahead.

Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs Director Mary Cownie told a group of lawmakers on the Fiscal Committee that it’s “an absolute embarrassment” that the State Historical Museum in downtown Des Moines has water leaks that require the facility’s atrium to be littered with buckets.

“I would hope that at the Capitol, if we had buckets, we would be sure to try to address the issue - given we’re a public institution just like the Capitol,” she said.

Cownie added that the building, which has housed the museum since the late 1980s, also has maintenance issues with its heating and cooling system and drainage system. She noted the building’s granite exterior is crumbling, with pieces occasionally falling as people walk by.

The department wants to renovate the building and estimates it will cost $65 million over several years. It is seeking $9 million for the project in the fiscal year that begins in 2016 and an additional $38 million in the fiscal year that begins in 2017, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

Cownie said the renovation ties in with the department’s vision for changing how residents and out-of-state visitors learn about Iowa history. She said the museum should be included as part of a visit to the Capitol building, located a few blocks away. She noted that there is limited space to display some of the department’s collection of Iowa artifacts, and it should be more accessible online.

Sen. Jeff Danielson, D-Cedar Falls, said he supported initiatives that would expand access to Iowa’s history. He also recognized potential limitations in funding.

“There’s a couple of positives here that can compel us to support this project,” he said, before adding, “The money is going to be tight, we know that.”

Cownie said the department plans to release a detailed report on the renovation plans soon.

Gov. Terry Branstad has shown financial support for the renovation in previous sessions, including more than $8 million for the fiscal year that began in July. The Legislature did not approve those costs.

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