PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The South Dakota Cultural Heritage Center turns 34 this year. The architecturally innovative museum, built into a grassy hillside much like the huts from two centuries ago, is primed for its first real spruce-up.
The $19.6 million of work ranges from building an Arikara-style lodge with seating for 72 out front and adding 3,000 square feet of storage space in back, to sending equipment up top to check the roof structure for soundness and replace the sod cover. Inside will get new LED lights throughout and the first change of carpet since the center opened in 1989.
McGough Construction received the state contract.
To get ready, nearly all of the 14,000 square feet of archives will be moved to a safe place — the location not revealed for security reasons — as will about 40% of the 33,000 objects in the museum’s collection. Most of what isn’t moved will be protectively sealed against dust and light.
All of this means the center won’t be open to the public for the next two-plus years. The archives research room closes March 10, followed by the main museum March 25. About half of the items in the exhibits have already been removed. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for Memorial Day.
Some of the 30 people who now work at the center will move to the Becker-Hansen building and some will move to temporary space in the Northridge Plaza shopping mall. Meetings will be held at the Mackay Building. The current schedule calls for staff to return to the center in summer 2025. That also is when they’ll start bringing back materials that have been in off-site storage.
The goal is to have the work done and the center open again to mark the nation’s 250th birthday in 2026, according to Ben Jones. He’s state historian and oversees the South Dakota State Historical Society’s various operations, including the center.
The archives will continue to provide research services to the public through email, mail, and telephone requests throughout the renovation, according to a news release.
The 2022 Legislature approved the renovation and modernization project, appropriating $8,881,785 from the state general fund and giving the center $3,301,800 in other fund authority, with the historical society’s foundation responsible for raising that portion. The state Bureau of Administration will also put about $7 million into it.
The center each year has added about 250 cubic feet of items to its collections and about 300 cubic feet of paper to its archives. The historical society didn’t have a publishing arm when the center opened in 1989. That was added in 1995. Cartons of books lined two wings of a hallway during a pre-construction tour Friday. “Adding on space adds another twenty to thirty years onto the building,” Jones said.
New exhibits showing what’s happened since 1989 will also be part of the center’s freshened look. Museum director David Grabitske said the work also includes rearranging some of the interior space: The new lodge out front will become the center’s education and meeting room, doubling the seating capacity of the current meeting room, and the museum store will move into the current education and meeting room.
The museum plans what’s being called “History on the Road” where some items are loaned to other sites. The first — and so far, only — object to go out is the termesphere — named for its artist, Dick Termes — showing the journey of explorers Lewis and Clark. It had hung in the museum’s lobby area. It’s now with the High Plains Western Heritage Center at Spearfish.
Grabitske (pronounced gruh-bit-skee) said places that borrow items should have climate conditions similar to the center, such as 68-degrees and 45% humidity, and provide protection against light and dust. “Things that are here deserve the same care as they have here,” Grabitske said. The museum also plans to offer online exhibits.
Jones said the renovation plan reflects that the historical society’s operations can’t just stop for two years and then start again. He also didn’t want to have to turn things away. The new exhibits will encourage visitors to engage with an object in different ways.
“We’re trying to live up to that word, experience,” he said. “History is always in the making.”