Construction is nearing completion on the Erie County Historical Society's new 6,000-square-foot exhibit center.
Construction is nearing completion on the Erie County Historical Society's latest expansion of its Hagen History Center campus at 356 W. Sixth St.
In the next week, crews are expected to finish work on the society's new 6,000-square-foot exhibit center, a two-story, steel-frame structure with a red brick exterior.
Each floor will showcase 3,000 feet of exhibit space. A groundbreaking ceremony in early March was followed by the start of construction a few weeks later.
"The projected completion date is Oct. 15 and that's just the physical structure of the building," Historical Society Executive Director George Deutsch said. "We're going to then need to plan out and build our exhibits. The goal is to have the first-floor exhibits completed by Memorial Day, and that includes an introductory gallery that visitors will go through before they enter the new building."
Private donations accounted for $1.7 million of the $2 million project. The remainder came from a $300,000 Keystone Communities Program Department of Community and Economic Development state grant.
The first floor will feature one exhibit that will provide an overview of the Erie region, focusing on early 20th-century cultural and economic booms and regional architecture. Another first-floor attraction is what Deutsch is calling a major national exhibit that will be announced later.
"We expect that exhibit will attract many thousand out-of-town visitors each year," Deutsch said. "I'm still not disclosing exactly what that gallery inside the building will be yet, but we will be announcing it soon. The idea is to have the first-floor exhibits open for the summer season."
Second-floor exhibits likely won't be built and installed until 2021, Deutsch said. The second floor will feature a comprehensive Erie County exhibit exploring the region's maritime and fishing history, general industry, native Americans, early settlers and immigrants.
The Hagen History Center's Wood-Morrison House will house a military and naval gallery, and another exhibit there will detail the history of the Erie Extension Canal, which once cut a swath through Erie in the early 1800s next to where the Wood-Morrison House is located.
"We hope that those exhibits will be done by the end of the summer," Deutsch said.
A comprehensive exhibit design plan for the entire Hagen History Center is being devised by the PRD Group, a professional exhibit design firm based in Chantilly, Virginia. That project — design, building and installation of exhibits — carries a nearly $2 million price tag.
Historical Society officials are preparing to launch another project this coming spring, when crews will break ground on construction of a 5,000-square-foot addition to the society's existing 10,000-square-foot archives building. That estimated $500,000 project is expected to be completed by the end of summer 2020, Deutsch said.
The archives addition, funded through private donations, will provide a secured, climate-controlled space for artifact storage and possibly additional exhibit space.
"We're still looking to raise some funding to make that happen," Deutsch said. "I have probably 75 percent of the money, but we are looking to raise the rest of it."
Erie Times-News staff writers share their views from behind the scenes, stories and bylines. Ron Leonardi can be reached at 870-1680. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.