Clock ticking to save museum

Fragile shell . . . Curator Dr Roz McKechnie surveys Balclutha Museum’s veranda which was finally ruined by the July downpours. PHOTO: NICK BROOK

[email protected]

› Over the years we haven’t had sufficient money to maintain or develop the building and it’s impossible to hide that now. That seriously affects visitor numbers.’

Balclutha’s South Otago Museum and its precious collection are at risk.

The museum’s Renfrew St building suffers from wet›rot and borer, steel framing is rusted and contractor inspections have revealed wiring and toilets are not up to code

The overall structure is below fire standards, recent rain waterlogged the front veranda so drastically its soffits had to be removed and curator Dr Roz McKechnie is concerned for the museum’s extensive collection.

‘‘Besides the risk of water damage, temperature fluctuations damage exhibits over time. I’ve seen items deteriorate while I’ve been here,’’ Dr McKechnie said.

‘‘Over the years we haven’t had sufficient money to maintain or develop the building and it’s impossible to hide that now.

‘‘That seriously affects visitor numbers.’’

A total of just 952 visitors attended the Renfrew St museum in the past four years, their fees and donations insufficient to pay bills, let alone fund renovations, and fundraising has been severely cut by Covid.

Originally a Ford Motors garage and showroom, the 1953 building, which is now owned by the South Otago Historical Society (SOHS), was closed for winter and will remain closed throughout the demolition of the Hotel South Otago across the road.

The sustainability of the museum had been an ongoing discussion for 15 years but ‘‘crunch time is fast approaching’’, Dr McKechnie said.

‘‘The museum is at risk of closure despite the fantastic collection housed here.

‘‘The current short›term plan is the minimum to bring the building up to code. That’s $150,000. Further renovations will be about $500,000 but we’re still left in an old building.

‘‘We are so grateful for generous donations and volunteer work, but something needs to happen on amuch bigger scale.

‘‘For the South Otago Historical Society to continue safeguarding the heritage of Clutha district, the community needs a safe accessible, warm and welcoming environment people want to visit and spend time at. Our dream outcome is to be included in the civic development going on in Clutha and have a new building on this site.’’

Funding application is a competitive environment and preliminary investment is necessary, a $120,000 request for wiring requiring SOHS to secure at least $40,000 from other sources.

Clutha district museums are combined, and receive some support from Clutha District Council including reimbursement of basic expenses.

‘‘It’s our privilege to support our local museums,’’ Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said.

‘‘Dr McKechnie has shown me the issues with the building and now is the time to start looking at options. This needs to be the catalyst for a long›term solution.’’

The museum’s annual meeting, scheduled for this Saturday at 2pm, will include a presentation, afternoon tea and guest speaker Emma Burns, curator of natural science at Otago Museum.

Dr McKechnie invited the public to attend the meeting and offer any ideas to preserve and promote the enviable collection.

‘‘We don’t want the museum to have to close, but something has to be done, and soon,’’ she said.

Treasure trove . .. Curator Dr Roz McKechnie says substandard facilities mean fewer visitors to appreciate the museum’s extensive and
valuable collection. PHOTO: NICK BROOK