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Natural history museum asks QW for $4 million – Belleville Intelligencer

The team proposing the Quinte Museum of Natural History has asked Quinte West council to jumpstart the campaign by providing about $4 million during the next 10 years.
Museum board members and executive director Alanna Jones made the request Monday during the council meeting at city hall. Jones said it’s a $15-million plan.
Museum chairperson Suzanne Andrews, who’s general manager of the Quinte West Chamber of Commerce, asked the city for $2 million in funding and as much as $2 million more through in-kind support.
“If we could make it happen, it would be something that would become a signature attraction for generations to come,” Andrews said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
“Ideally we would be building in 2024,” she told council. “If we get the money earlier, we can build it earlier.”
Councillors were enthusiastic and receptive. They referred the request to their March 11 operational budget talks.
The project, if approved, would buy the Dufferin Avenue building of Research Casting International (RCI), a world-leading museum technical services company.
The 33,000-square-foot museum would then occupy much of the current structure.
Company founder and owner Peter May, a museum director, said RCI would lease some space from the museum and build two new buildings to house some of its ongoing work.
“We’re building exhibits for museums all over the world,” said May, and museum visitors will see of that unfold.
Preparation and mounting of exhibits will occur in the leased space, he said. Windows will allow the public to watch from outside those rooms while interpreters explain the action. Tours of the workspaces may be offered for an extra fee, said May.
Education programs
May said exhibits will begin with the origins of life about 550 million years ago and explain its development to today, when Ontario’s biodiversity will be explored.
“We’ll see all of the animals in Ontario today … and how we got here,” he said.
Andrews said there will be programs for students, teachers and the public; they’ll focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics. She described the facility as an “innovative, world-class museum” serving students from local schools and elsewhere.
“Those kids won’t be spending hours and hours on a bus now.”
May said education will also happen outdoors, with programs along the waterfront and surrounding woods.
“We see this museum as an international attraction,” said board member Dug Stevenson, the executive director of the Bay of Quinte Regional Marketing
Andrews said the goal is to “build a world-class, modern, relevant and technology-driven museum” with “exceptional” exhibits. They and the programs will discuss the need for conservation and preservation of nature, she said.
ROM pledges help
May said the museum would be “built to the world standard.
“We’ll be working with the Royal Ontario Museum, who have offered us original fossil specimens,” said May.
That Toronto museum is also represented on the Quinte museum’s board.
In a Feb. 25 letter to Andrews, the ROM’s deputy director of collections and research. Dr. Mark Engstrom, expressed “strong support” for the Quinte attraction.
Staff of the ROM, he wrote, are impressed by the Quinte museum’s design and willing to discuss the long-term loaning of several ROM fossils, including those of a dire wolf, a giant ground sloth in a tar pit and an Irish elk.
A duck-billed dinosaur skeleton and an exhibit of an allosaurus – a smaller relative of the tyrannosaurus – attacking a plant-eating dinosaur may also be part of a loan, Engstrom added, and ROM staff are willing to serve as advisors.
Crowds expected
A study by a tourism consultant determined the museum could draw 70,000 visitors a year.
Stevenson said it could have an annual economic impact of as much as $12.25 million.
City support is critical, Andrews said. She explained provincial and federal governments’ approach to funding have changed. It’s not expected a partnership like those of the past, in which the city, province and country each paid one-third of the cost, will happen this time.
She said both Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith and MP Neil Ellis have been approached.
Corporate donors will also be crucial, said Andrews, but that, too, hinges upon municipal backing.
“They want to see the municipality on board first.
“If we didn’t have the support of Quinte West we were going to have to take a really serious look at the validity of this project,” Andrews said Tuesday. She said the presentation to council was essentially the start of a capital fundraising campaign.
“We will be reaching out to all of the surrounding municipalities,” she added, calling the museum “a regional asset.” No timeline has been set for future municipal requests.
Long process
Since 2013, when the effort began, the project has received seed funding from the city, Trenval Business Development Corp., RCI and the federal government.
Andrews said about $200,000 has been spent on the initial work. It has included various studies and reports. The city last year contributed $30,000 to help fund Jones’ salary and allow the work to continue.
It now has charitable status, a key part of the plan and one which required more than a year to obtain, Andrews said.
She said the in-kind support requested from the city hadn’t been defined and would require talks with city staff. The board proposes financial support of $200,000 per year.
Andrews said the museum must be sustainable. While fundraising will continue once it’s open, there’s no plan to make repeated requests for city dollars, she said.
She also said it’s too early to predict the cost of admission but rates would likely be set at “market value” with attempts made to keep them affordable for families. A regional museum pass involving access to other attractions may be possible, said Andrews. Partnerships with other facilities have been suggested.
An access road would lead from Dufferin Avenue to what is now the rear of the RCI building. Andrews said a dock will allow visitors to arrive by boat.
Council supportive
A trail will link the Trent Port Marina to the museum.
“From our viewpoint, this natural history museum will be one of the significant features on this trail that we hope at some point will go all the way down to Murray Canal,” city chief administrative officer Charlie Murphy said.
“The stars have aligned to make this happen right now,” said Coun. Sally Freeman.
“People will be coming in by boat a lot more often than they are now,” she said, “because for a one-kilometre walk through a beautiful walkway, they can enjoy this every day, if they want to, while they’re staying with us.”
Freeman recalled the long line of vehicles during a past Doors Open event as people crowded into the RCI building, which isn’t normally open to the public. Freeman said the crowd “wasn’t just people from Trenton” and their excitement was inspiring.
“I think it’s going to be phenomenal,” Coun. Allan DeWitt said of the museum. The city’s tourism sector is growing, he said.
“This could certainly be a cornerstone of that industry.”
There’s also the potential for expansion. The city owns 14 acres bordering the lot, Andrews said.
Funding will be discussed Monday, March 11 during council’s special meeting to set the year’s operating budget. It starts at 6 p.m. at city hall at 7 Creswell Dr.
lhendry@postmedia.com
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