Old to new: Ground broken on Museum of North Idaho relocation 20,000 square foot facility to replace confining 4,300-square-foot building

LOREN BENOIT/Press Community leaders took the next step toward building a new museum, conducting a groundbreaking ceremony just south of Coeur d’Alene City Hall at the base of Tubbs Hill on Friday. From left, Robert Singletary, Museum of North Idaho marketing director; Dorthy Dahlgren, Museum of North Idaho director; Kiki Miller, Coeur d’Alene City Council; Mike Dickson, Museum of North Idaho Board president; James Chapkis, ignite cda; Julie Gibbs, Museum of North Idaho Board vice president; and Barbara Fillmore, Tubbs Hill Foundation president.

By Keith Erickson Correspondent
| September 21, 2019 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — In the world of museums, old is good.

But sometimes history needs a facelift — and a little elbow room. That’s what’s in store for the Museum of North Idaho, which has been in its current location since 1979.

Community leaders and history buffs took a step Friday toward building a new museum just south of Coeur d’Alene City Hall at the base of Tubbs Hill.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Mike Dixon, Museum of North Idaho board president. “For so many years, we’ve been limited physically by the present museum building. This will give us a chance to do justice to the unique history of our area.”

Packed into a rustic — if aging and confined — 4,300-sqauare-foot structure adjacent to City Park, museum visitors for years haven’t been able to see all the gems of the area’s past, Museum of North Idaho Director Dorothy Dahlgren said.

Many artifacts have been stored for years because of a lack of space.

“We’re bursting at the seams,” Dahlgren said.

The new building will change that. Historic items that have been tucked away for years will be put on proper display once the new museum opens. This includes 100-year-old furniture from Fort Sherman on the North Idaho College campus and a lifeboat and smokestack from the 1917 Miss Spokane steamboat, Dahlgren said.

“We’re very excited to be able to bring items like this out of storage for the public to see,” said Dahlgren, who has been with the Museum of North Idaho since 1982.

Dixon agreed. “Our new facility will give us four- to five-times the space that we currently have,” he said.

Friday’s groundbreaking marks Phase I of the state-of-the-art museum experience, said Jocelyn Whitfield-Babcock, the Museum of North Idaho’s development director.

Phase I of the project will bring the landmark J.C. White House at Eighth Street and Sherman Avenue to its final home just a few blocks away.

Whitfield-Babcock said Friday’s groundbreaking was made possible in large part because of community donations. More than $600,000 has been raised to move the historic home. Funds to renovate the house, necessary for the Museum of North Idaho to occupy the building, still need to be raised.

“The goal is to begin restorations to the house during the spring of 2020,” she said.

Phase II of the project includes an expansion of two wings to create 20,000 square feet of space for exhibits, a theater, a library, meeting rooms, offices, and storage.

The project’s total cost is estimated at $8.4 million. Naming rights will be available during Phase II fundraising and museum officials have identified matching grants that could double donor dollars and complete the new museum by 2021, Whitfield-Babcock said.

Dahlgren said the new museum was an extraordinary opportunity to showcase the area’s history.

“It will give us the ability to exhibit and better depict our regional history and show off some of the wonderful artifacts that have been held away for so many years,” she said.

For more information about the Museum of North Idaho’s capital project and campaign, contact Mike Dixon at 208-659-2807 or madixon55@gmail.com. Development Director Jocelyn Whitfield-Babcock may be reached at 509-294-2080 or miltonstreetscribe@gmail.com.