Although the building is certainly not in danger of falling, the recent cracking in one stair and last Sunday's collapse of another step in the foyer of the Elizabeth M. Watkins Community Museum may indicate a larger problem, museum officials said.
Steve Jansen, director of the museum, said Friday that although the stairwell step collapsed during an exhibition, no one was hurt and the wood foundation underneath the stair was still solid. In addition, the crack that developed about three months ago on the first and second stairs leading to the main level of the building is not the first such break in the marble steps.
``They've always been cracked like that,'' Jansen said. ``We're using this recent crack as a reason to look at replacing the whole riser.
``We're hoping to replace them. The other option is bonding them.''
The problem, he said, is that the foundation of the 105-year-old building is settling.
``We suspect the wood substructure is moving in one direction and the marble is going in another,'' Jansen said. ``The damage is only cosmetic, but it may be a symptom of a larger problem.''
The museum has contacted the Carthage Marble Co., Kansas City, Mo., to examine the stairs and make suggestions about how to fix the damage, but as of Friday, Jansen did not know how much the repairs would cost or when the work would be done.
The stairs are not the only part of the building that have been affected by the settling of the foundation. Jansen said there were 53 masonry cracks on the building's exterior that have been there for many years. When the building was refurbished between 1971 and 1973, the cracks in the walls, which Jansen said were only cosmetic, were treated and sealed.
``So it isn't as though the problem hasn't been recognized and dealt with over the last 20 years,'' he said. ``This is just the next round of what you would expect to deal with in a beautiful, ornate old building. When you're talking about buildings of this size and character, I'm sure others have had similar problems.''
However, the historic value of the building has the museum's directors concerned about possible long-term structural problems, Jansen said. For that reason, the museum contracted with a consulting firm in January 1993 to do a structural study of the building. Jansen received the results of that study Aug. 4, but until the museum's full board of directors has a chance to review it, Jansen said he could not comment on the specifics of its findings.
He did say the report would provide a blueprint for long-term maintenance and repair of the building.
``We've been studying this project probably for two or three years, and now we finally have a report,'' he said. ``It will enable us to better understand our needs and help us plan on fund-raising for future projects.''
Raising money for major structural repairs is important, Jansen said, because the museum receives only 38 percent of its yearly operational budget from the county. The rest is raised through private donations.
No matter what happens to the long-term structural plans, the immediate problem of repairing both sets of stairs will be dealt with as soon as possible, Jansen said, even though it may put a strain on the museum's budget.
``We can do the repair, but it could cause us very easily to run over our budget,'' he said.