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Accessible . .. Waitaki Museum and Archive and Forrester Gallery director Chloe Searle stands in the museum’s newly installed lift. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

In November, the Waitaki Museum and Archive will celebrate the 140th anniversary of the building it calls home.

The historic Athenaeum building in Thames St was officially opened in November 1882, and Waitaki Museum and Archive director Chloe Searle said it would be ‘‘lovely’’ to be able celebrate the completion of stage two of the building’s redevelopment at the same time as its 140th anniversary.

However, while good progress was being made on stage two, with the building work nearing completion, a November completion date may prove difficult, as specialist equipment to fit-out the new spaces was coming from all over the world, Ms Searle said.

‘‘We’re going to do it as quickly as we can, but there are a few things out of our control,’’ she said.

‘‘Given how long it’s taken I probably just need to be patient for a wee bit longer — and we’ll get there.’’

Stage one of the project, which cost $1,076,945 and involved the redevelopment of the ground level of the museum, was completed in December 2020, and stage two, which opens up the second floor of the building to the public for the first time and transforms the ground-floor archive and storage space, got under way last year. Stage two, which has a budget of $2,373,953, has also involved the installation of a lift and earthquake strengthening.

In the past, the upper level of the museum had been mostly closed to the public, with the exception of the occasional school holiday programme or public talk.

‘‘That was partly because there was no lift to access the second floor, and also because it was used for storage,’’ Ms Searle said.

‘‘It was kind of, in some ways, like our spare room, if I’m honest.’’

The redeveloped upper level will have temporary and permanent exhibition spaces, and an education room. The permanent exhibition space will have a 20th-century theme, starting with the World War 1 era and moving through to the present day, covering ‘‘all sorts of aspects’’ of the Waitaki district’s history.

‘‘We were really conscious when we reopened the ground floor at the end of 2020, the stories that we’re telling down there, for the most part get to about 1900,’’ Ms Searle said.

‘‘We wanted to bring the stories of the Waitaki district more up to date.’’
When lead contractor Breen completes the building work, the fit-out will get under way and

Ms Searle was thrilled to be able to showcase more of the museum’s collection to the public. Before the redevelopment, visitors would often comment that they wanted to see more, especially because the district was so well-known for its heritage.

‘‘And we had all these exciting things in our storeroom,’’ she said.

The new temporary exhibition space also enabled the museum to showcase more of those ‘‘exciting things’’ to the public, and would change about every three months.

‘‘That will enable us to show more of the collection, work with different community groups to tell their stories. . .and also possibly some of the smaller touring exhibitions from other museums.’’

For a lot of people, the archive was ‘‘a bit mysterious’’, and Ms Searle was looking forward to sharing more with the public in the new purpose-built archive and research area.

The museum had received ‘‘lovely feedback’’ from visitors after opening the redeveloped ground floor in December 2020.

‘‘One of the things that personally I’ve found really touching is for Maori visitors that we’ve got more of their story and the resonance that they feel coming in and seeing themselves and some of their stories in our museum is pretty powerful.’’

Waitaki District Council deputy chief executive and people and culture group manager Lisa Baillie said stage two of the museum and archive project had received significant external funding, including $1.064 million from the Lotteries Significant Projects Fund and $600,000 from the Otago Community Trust.

‘‘We have also had the privilege of using almost $100,000 from bequests and special funds for this project,’’ Mrs Baillie said.

The council ‘‘couldn’t be more delighted’’ that the long-planned project was coming to fruition, she said.

‘‘We cannot wait to welcome the community in to enjoy the full experience that this beautiful building and our fantastic collection of all things uniquely Waitaki have to offer.’’