By Sarah Pridgeon
Brick by brick, window by window, the Crook County Museum District has spent years pushing slowly onward with the renovation of Old Stoney. Suddenly, with the injection of a $2.45 million grant, the reality of a functional cultural center as a linchpin for downtown Sundance is beginning to set in.
“We had gotten to the point where we could not do any more, we couldn’t keep piecemealing it together. With the city getting involved and becoming our partners, it has just been phenomenal,” says Rocky Courchaine, Museum Director, giving credit for breathing life into the project to Clerk Treasurer Kathy Lenz and her work to secure the State Lands and Investments Board grant.
The vision for phase one of the project is to complete the entry floor as the new home for the Crook County Museum and gift store, says Courchaine. The four classrooms will be left intact, providing a floor plan that has more distinction between exhibits as well as taller ceilings and more overall space.
“I’ve got it planned out – I’ve been dreaming a while,” he smiles.
Funds to replace the remaining windows on the east and north side is also included in the grant, he says, as well as to remove an unnecessary fire escape on the north face. The old steel windows have been integrated into the design for the office spaces downstairs.
“We’re trying to recycle quite a bit,” Courchaine says.
The first floor down on entering the building will be transformed into office spaces. Two of these have been reserved for the museum director and district, but the remaining three or four will be available for rent.
“If we have somebody who is interested in a larger space, now is the time to hit us up. We can design this to fit your needs,” Courchaine points out.
That floor will also include retail space for rent, he adds, located to the left as you reach the bottom of the stairs.
“The elevator is probably going to be one of the main things that we’re going to be working on early, because we have to cut holes in the floor and do a lot of excavating,” Courchaine says.
Though phase one will not include the top floor and basement, the elevator will still be installed to reach the top of the building. This will allow those who are unable to use the stairs to attend summer programs in the auditorium and the art auction this year, he says.
Phase two of the project will complete the auditorium and meeting rooms upstairs and also transform the basement into a storage area for museum items. Work on the basement will begin with dirt removal to ensure the correct height for the fire marshal, which can be done before the renovation proper begins.
“For now, it’s just elbow grease. There is an exterior entrance at the east side that has been filled with dirt for the last 50 years, so we need to dig it out,” he says.
As phase one begins, the district will turn its attention to preparing for phase two by continuing its fundraising efforts.
“We’re going to keep on trucking. The Cultural Trust Fund grant is due in December, so we’ll re-apply for that one, though with the state cutbacks it’s probably only going to be $10,000,” he says.
During the process of renovating the basement, the gymnasium floor will be removed, cut into squares and sold to the public. In return for the purchase, the person’s name will be engraved on the square and it will be incorporated into the design on the interior walls of the building.
In a similar vein, the district will be selling paving stones for a walkway through the park that will sit next to the building, each of which will also bear the name of the person who donated. Windows are also still available for purchase by individual donors and will be engraved at the bottom with names.
These fundraisers combined will not only contribute to the matching funds for phase two of the project, Courchaine says, but will also recognize all the people who continue to support Old Stoney for posterity.
Stateline No. 7 Architects will take charge of designing the building interior, a company that has completed numerous historical projects including the Ten Sleep Fish Hatchery, the Knights of Columbus bingo hall and the Windsor Block Lofts in Rapid City and the Homestake Museum in Deadwood.
Courchaine is keen on the firm’s past work and hopes it will bring the same classy feel to Old Stoney.
“I want it to be historically correct, but I want it to take your breath away when you walk in,” he says.
Principal architect Lyle Murtha visited town on Monday to discuss logistics and confirm the company’s interest in taking on the project, says Courchaine.
At the moment, the plans for the renovation are not settled. Once the grant papers have formally been signed, the architect can go about putting together firm plans for the contractors to follow.
“We’re waiting for the Wyoming Business Council to get the contract to us and then the city will sign the contract and the architect will get his contract,” he says.
“From there, we can start putting the bids out, so it’s going to be a couple of months before we actually see things starting to happen.”
Courchaine expects that the contracts will be ready to sign by May 1. With a following wind, he is hopeful that the project can begin in earnest by the end of the year.
In the meantime, he and the volunteers who continue to contribute to the renovation can focus on preparing the building for renovation by removing stored items and taking care of smaller items of work.