photo by Marcy Merrill
Aberdeen’s Museum of History before the June 2018 armory fire. If all goes well, the city of Aberdeen appears poised to purchase a downtown building to house the surviving collection.

photo by Marcy Merrill Aberdeen’s Museum of History before the June 2018 armory fire. If all goes well, the city of Aberdeen appears poised to purchase a downtown building to house the surviving collection.

Aberdeen seriously considering downtown building for new museum location

The city of Aberdeen appears closer to securing a location for the Aberdeen Museum of History than it has been in the more than three years since the previous location was destroyed by fire.

The Aberdeen Board of Museum and History meeting on Tuesday included a somewhat unusual “executive session,” a session closed to the public, “to consider the selection of a site of the acquisition of real estate by lease or purchase when public knowledge regarding such a consideration would cause a likelihood of increased price,” said board chairman John Shaw.

After the 15-minute closed session, the board returned, and Shaw said he “would like to entertain a motion on what we discussed.” Board member Mike Schmidt moved that “the museum board supports the city’s interest in purchasing the proposed building in downtown Aberdeen to be used for museum purposes.”

The board unanimously accepted, then moved on to other business.

A few board members during the board comment period alluded to being encouraged by the city’s interest in a building for the museum.

Aberdeen Mayor Pete Schave was asked to speak, and gave a few more details, short of the actual location, to board members.

“I want to say how excited I am that we’re moving forward with the location,” said Schave. “It’s just interesting how we looked and looked and we looked at this building, that building, and then all of a sudden smack dab in the middle of the city turns out to be one of the best locations we’ve spotted overall, so far.”

Because the building is up for sale, the location could not be divulged while it was being inspected and before purchase negotiations could be struck. But Schave dropped a few hints about the building to the board.

“The building is pretty much a shell with pillars and stairwells, and the walls that are in it are just room dividers,” said Schave. “It’s got the floor plan for what we want to do there, it’s wide open. Anything could be done.”

Schave followed up with the Daily World on Wednesday about what he could share.

“We’ve been looking at locations from day one,” said Schave. “We’ve had numerous buildings we’ve looked at, sent city staff to, we’ve analyzed them and it was just this, that or the other just didn’t work out, so it’s been real difficult.”

Then this location popped up.

“We finally found a building that we think will work and so we’re at the point now where we have sent the owners a request for a 45-day hold so that we can examine it, and as soon as I get the information from that back the crews will go over and check out the electrical and plumbing and structure and roof and elevator, things like that.” If all appears OK, the city would be “ready to make an offer,” said Schave.

Schave sounded very confident after looking through the building himself that it would suit the purposes of a museum, something the city hasn’t had since the armory fire destroyed the previous location in June 2018.

“Hopefully we can get things squared away and get this thing done,” he said.

The city has looked at numerous buildings over the years since the fire, including a thorough $38,000 study of the old Boeing Building off River Street at the north end of the Chehalis River Bridge.

“We spent a considerable amount of money on the Boeing Building, trying to make that work, and it just didn’t work out,” said Schave. “I still feel bad about it, because it’s awesome inside.”

Suggestions for buildings have come from the museum board and others, and crews were sent to many locations that just didn’t pan out for the museum’s needs, frustrating for the city and wearing the patience of residents who believe a museum should be a priority for the city, especially in light of the $20-plus million armory fire insurance payout the city received.

“So to get to this point and find something we are happy with, we’ve been continually trying to find out where to put the museum and how we can afford it, etc.,” said Schave. “Staff has been on this from day one.”

At Tuesday’s museum board meeting, Schave indicated volunteer work would be needed to make the building, if it is found to suit the purpose and is purchased, into another museum the city could be proud of.

“It will be a little while before anything gets going and there’s lots of organizing and planning to do, but get your hammers and your brooms and dustpans all polished up and ready to go, there will be some good things happening,” he said.