Over 30 apply for Watkins Museum position
More than 30 people have applied to be the next director of the Watkins Community Museum of History.
Judy Billings — director of the non-profit group that oversees management of the museum — said a committee has narrowed the field to six candidates. One round of telephone interviews has been completed, and the board soon will decide whether to bring some candidates in for more interviews.
Billings said the original plans called for the position to be filled by the beginning of the year, but she said the group will take more time if needed.
“We realize this is a very critical position in the life of the organization, so we don’t want to rush into this,” Billings said.
The position has been filed on an interim basis by former city manager Mike Wildgen since 2008 when the previous director was dismissed.
Details on how city leaders hope to use the Carnegie Library building to lure Civil War tourists are emerging, as a $1.5 million renovation project is set to be done by year’s end.
Judy Billings — director of the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau and the group that runs the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area — confirmed her office has secured a new permanent display from a branch of the National Archives. The display focuses on the Kansas-Nebraska Act and its role in sparking the Civil War.
The heritage area group also has hired a Kansas City-based consultant to develop a larger display for the main room of the Carnegie. That display will highlight the region’s role in the beginning of the Civil War but also will have a broader theme on how freedom has evolved.
“It will prompt thinking about our freedom and how it is related to events that have occurred in this area, and it will prompt people to think about how they feel about their freedoms today,” Billings said.
The effort will require some city funding. City Manager David Corliss said the display ultimately may need upwards of $200,000 to be completed. But Corliss said his recommendation is to fund the work from the city’s guest tax, which is charged to visitors at Lawrence motels and hotels. Corliss said that makes sense because a major goal of the project is to make the Carnegie the starting place for tourists who visit national heritage area — which includes 41 counties in Kansas and Missouri.
“I feel like we have to spend some money to rehabilitate the facility and create the exhibit to show we’re going to be a good leader for the Freedom’s Frontier area,” Corliss said.
The funding issues will be presented to city commissioners later this year.
Corliss said work to bring the building up to speed is nearing its end. Crews built an addition onto the north side of the building to house new ADA-compliant bathrooms and elevators. Work also was done to prepare the lower “garden level” of the building to serve as the offices for the convention and visitors bureau and Destination Management Inc., the non-profit that oversees the heritage area.
The main floor of the building, in addition to the exhibits, also will serve as a meeting and reception area that can be rented through Lawrence Parks and Recreation. Ernie Shaw, interim director of Parks and Recreation, said the main reception space in the Carnegie should seat about 200 people. That’s about twice as big as the popular reception area the department rents at the Lawrence Visitors Center in the old Union Pacific Depot.
“I think this building will end up attracting quite a few people who otherwise wouldn’t be coming to downtown,” Corliss said. “This will give them a new reason to visit.”
Billings said her groups hope to begin moving in during December. The Kansas-Nebraska Act exhibit may be up by mid-January, but the larger exhibit likely won’t be completed until spring.