Hutchings Museum located at 55 N Center St. | Jennifer Wirth

Memorial Building expansion plan presented

On Tuesday, December 4, the Hutchings Museum staff and board members attended the Lehi City Council meeting to present plans to expand the museum and renovate the interior of the Veterans Memorial Building. The Hutchings Museum holds a 100-year lease on space within the building which also houses the American Legion Post 19. The plan presented to the city council hopes to remedy losses due to improper storage, space restraints, and the need to update the aging facility.

In a video presentation made for the meeting, museum director Daniela Larsen highlighted the needs of the museum for proper storage and space of the valuable collection. Until about two years ago, much of the collection had been stored in trailers on city property. These storage facilities had no pest or temperature control, and much of the collection was irreversibly damaged. Items like navy and army uniforms, soldier identifications, and the handwritten histories that accompanied individual items, saw heavy losses. Larsen said “Many of these items belonged to Lehi residents and were given to the museum. Textiles and anything made of paper were especially hit hard. The rodents that had overrun the storage facilities left uric acid damage on many artifacts.” Uric acid is the main excretory product in rodents. Larsen said “Despite hundreds of hours of volunteer help in cleaning uric acid and brushing away mice droppings, a lot of the damage was irreversible. Uric acid even weakens stone, and there was so much of it that rocks, cave formations, and other truly unique artifacts would just break as we tried to clean them.”

Much of the museum’s collection is housed in other city buildings. “The lack of temperature and humidity control, storage space, and proper security is not what it should be. The value of many of the museum’s artifacts is quite high. Recently items very similar to ours, particularly items related to Porter Rockwell, were stolen from other museums and sold on the black market for over $11,000. We also have hymn books belonging to pioneers that settled here. Those have been purchased by collectors for up to $65,000. These collections are being stored in rooms that don’t even have smoke detectors” said Larsen.

(In black) Proposed footprint of Memorial Building expansion. | Courtesy Lehi CIty

The proposed addition and renovation plans also provide for required updates to the interior of the Veterans Memorial Building, which is turning 100 years old next year. Addressing fluctuating temperatures, providing wheelchair accessibility, and electrical updates are some of the updates planned for the current building. A new building next to the current Memorial building at the same location would provide additional space for the current collection to be housed, as well as room to host traveling exhibits from other museums, such as the Smithsonian. Hutchings Museum board members and staff plan to raise all money necessary to fund the expansion as well as updates to the current building.

The proposed addition/building would be located west and north of the current building. Larsen said “We have been working with the historical society and architects to ensure that the heritage of the building is preserved, while ensuring that its use and accessibility will be able to continue. We feel that the building itself is one of the most valuable artifacts to the history of Lehi. The renovations and expansion would provide more room for the Veterans Memorial that will still be housed there. Anything that’s part of the historic building’s exterior will not be touched. All renovations will be to the interior of the building.”

With unanimous approval from the Mayor and City Council members, the museum will take the next steps necessary to move forward with their plans. Council member Johnny Revill said “I remember going to the museum as a kid. I still like going there today and seeing some of the same displays, along with so many new ones. I think we’d be doing the community a disservice if we didn’t continue to improve.” Council member Paul Hancock echoed his sentiments, saying “It’s amazing to see what you guys have been able to do with the space that you have. To see the loss of artifacts makes this definitely worth supporting.”

This year, over 4,000 children have visited the museum either with school groups or on family outings. Larsen said “these kids are learning about the natural history of the area, the animals, conservation projects that they can be involved in, and the history of Lehi and the state of Utah. We can’t do nothing while the collection continues to deteriorate. We need to make these steps to actively preserve it for future generations,” said Larsen.

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