New museum could benefit downtown, community
by BETH ALTENA
Editor’s note: I apologize this story did not run last week as intended. It was written and sent prior to our printing deadline while I was on vacation in Maine (see pic below right). Unfortunately, it was never received by the staff working hard without me. Next trip we will make sure to bring the entire staff along so communication is improved while on vacation.
On Monday, July 11, members of the Rockford City Council apparently reversed an earlier decision turning down a proposal by the Rockford Area Historical Society to open a museum in the former 63rd District Court building. Instead they gave the Society a six-month window to raise half of the funds necessary to renovate the building, located across the parking lot from Rockford City Hall.
“Our point all along is give us a shot,” said Historical Society President Terry Konkle. He believes the council may have set a precedent by giving dog park hopefuls a year to fundraise for that project at last month’s meeting.
Konkle said it would require an estimated $500,000 to do all that the Society has in mind to bring Rockford a first-class interactive Historical Society museum that would benefit downtown, the greater Rockford community and be a destination for visitors.
Council had asked for proposals for a public use for the former court building, which was purchased from Kent County for a token $10 after the Supreme Court ended a fight to return a full court presence to the location. As part of the agreement, Rockford is required to use the structure for a public purpose. Both the Historical Society and North Kent Community Services put in a bid, but both were turned down. The Historical Society received a letter February 11 formally rejecting their bid for use of the building.
Konkle attended the February 14 meeting of City Council, which at that time was considering renovating the courthouse for use as a public meeting room similar to the Rockford Community Cabin. The courthouse offers twice as much room as the Cabin, and would be spacious enough for larger parties than the Cabin can accommodate. At that meeting, council was informed by City Manager Michael Young that estimates to bring the court building up to current City Hall standards would be in the range of $125,000.