Aberdeen Museum of History saga nears closure

About 43 months after the armory fire left the Aberdeen Museum of History without a place to show off its collection, a new location appears to have been nailed down.

City officials told The Daily World that they are finalizing the purchase of the vacant Salvation Army building in the 100 block of West Wishkah Street. The price is $350,000 — an offer the seller has accepted.

The purchase ends a long saga for the museum and its supporters, who have been trying for years to relocate after a fire ripped through the Aberdeen Armory Building in June 2018. The building, which housed the museum, was located at North I Street and East Third Street.

Aberdeen Board of Museum and History Chair John Shaw was pleased with the agreement.

“It fits our original matrix: historic building, in the downtown core, on the main drag. As we investigated it with the mayor (Pete Schave), everybody got warmed up to the idea that it would be an excellent location to store and house the collection,” said Shaw in the Dec. 29 edition of The Daily World. “It’s an area that we like, it has reasonable parking, and it checks a lot of boxes.”

That’s the good news. But the building needs a boatload of work in order for it to safely house the collection that documents some of the history of this old fishing and logging town. How much work? The estimated cost to make necessary improvements is $2.5 million to $3 million.

The improvements range from updating the sprinkler system to dealing with outdated heating and electrical systems. A casual drive past the location also reveals that the building’s exterior and adjacent parking lot could use some sprucing up, too.

So we are left wondering where the $2.5 million to $3 million is going to come from given the city has pretty much allocated all the money it received in an armory fire insurance settlement — somewhere around $23 million.

About $7 million was earmarked for ongoing levee projects in Aberdeen, something that is an absolute necessity. Then there was the curious decision to allocate another $7 million for the proposed Gateway Center on East Wishkah Street adjacent to the Wishkah Bridge.

We don’t know a lot about the Gateway Center, which is being pushed by Schave, but it appears to be an offshoot of a proposal a few years ago dubbed the Grays Harbor Gateway Center. The center, in theory, would be used to host corporate events and the like.

As of September, there was roughly $4 million of the insurance money that had not been designated for use. So it’s possible that some of the money for the Salvation Army building improvements could be used from what’s left, if anything at this point, or museum supporters are going to have to find a way to raise the cash.

But given it will take most of 2022 to organize and move the collection from its existing location in the Port Industrial area, according to Shaw, it looks like museum supporters have some time to get their financial ducks in a row. We wish them the best of luck as they head into the new year with renewed hope and lots of work to do before the museum is finally able to reopen.