By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The Oshawa Museum is looking to expand in a big way.
Plans for a new 10,000 square foot visitor centre at Lakeview Park are in the works, marking the first step toward providing more program space, storage capacity and offices for an organization that has long outgrown its current space.
“We’re bursting at the seams and there’s a lot of things that we’d like to do moving forward with programming that just aren’t accessible to us right now,” says Laura Suchan, director of the Oshawa Museum.
The new plans, approved in principle by council, can now begin to be put in motion.
“That was something we really wanted before we proceeded, we didn’t want to shell out any money or anything along those lines,” Suchan says. “We’re happy to say that, in principle, council has supported it and it’s now up to the Oshawa Historical Society to kind of put the wheels in motion to make this happen.”
The current plan would see the building placed in the empty space to the north of the existing Henry and Gray houses, and to the south of the parking lot off of Simcoe Street.
“It’s not an area of the park that’s used consistently, so it’s actually perfect for our needs,” Suchan says.
The plans would allow for increased office space for museum staff, and more importantly bigger and better programming areas for museum patrons and better storage areas for the museum’s collection, which are stored wherever they can find room, including in the attics of some of the historic houses.
And they aren’t wasting any time getting the ball rolling either as plans to conduct an archaeological assessment of the proposed site are slated to get underway in the first week of May.
“It’s very close to the historic houses and also we did have an excavation in the garden of Henry House that turned up some good historical, archaeological artifacts,” Suchan says. “I see this summer as kind of laying the groundwork for a lot of this moving forward.”
The expansion has also been a long time coming, as a consultant report dating back to 1996 found that the museum was in dire need of space at that time as well.
“The existing structures do not fully support the OM’s current curatorial, programming and administrative activities,” the report from Sears and Russell consultants reads. “The artifact and archival collections storage facilities (basements, attics, an unheated off-site storage locker) are totally inadequate in terms of spatial requirement, accessibility and security and environmental conditions.”
A further report completed in 2016 found the very same thing, noting that a “lack of space is a key constraint for all Oshawa Museum activities putting existing collections at risk of damage and restricting future collection of Oshawa’s heritage.”
However, residents looking to perhaps visit the new piece of the Oshawa Museum may have a little bit longer to wait, as the goal would see the building completed in conjunction with the City of Oshawa’s centennial celebration in 2024.
“We thought that was a great way to celebrate that centennial. You’re recognizing and honouring the past, but it’s a building for the future and future growth,” Suchan says. “We would love moving forward to see this project as, let’s say, an official city project for the centennial, something that maybe we could get the whole city to rally behind because we’re really looking at doing this for the community.”
In terms of funding, Suchan says it is too early to speculate but notes that tapping into existing grants and perhaps a fundraising campaign are on the horizon. Suchan notes they are also looking into perhaps partnering with other organizations to share the space.
“At this point, that’s hard to say. Certainly, our initial plan when it was done, the new programming and increase in programming capacity, offset a lot of the increased operating costs,” she says. “We’re open to partners, if there’s another historical or cultural group that’s looking for space, we’re certainly open to entertaining those kinds of discussions and that’s certainly something we were doing back in the 90s too.”