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Milwaukee Co. approves $45M for Milwaukee Public Museum

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Posted at 11:01 AM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-21 18:49:08-04

MILWAUKEE — During a special meeting on Tuesday, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors approved giving $45 million to the Milwaukee Public Museum, as the organization deals with a deteriorating facility and faces issues with accreditation.

The museum is also running a $150 million fundraising campaign and has $40 million in funding secured from state government.

Museum officials hope to use all of the funds to build a new building to house their collections in the Historic Haymarket District. They hope to complete the building's design by March 2022 with a construction bid date of December 2022. Construction is expected to begin in 2023 with full completion by spring 2026.

The museum opened in 1884. Its current location, 800 W. Wells St., is its fourth location.

The county funds will go toward the $240 million MPM says it needs to move and build a new facility. The museum CEO and President, Ellen Censky, has said MPM already secured state funding and organized a campaign to raise private money too.

"I’m proud to sign a piece of legislation into law and supporting at the museum to bring players to the table that not only saves this county money in the long run but helps to keep the service that enriches and entertains thousands," Crowley said.

The money will support the museum's preservation of more than 4 million objects and specimens owned by the county and build a new site near 6th and McKinley in downtown Milwaukee, just steps away from Fiserv Forum.

"You have helped ensure that the Milwaukee Public Museum will remain an accredited institution and now together we can continue to provide access to inspiring and educational opportunities," Cenksy said during the signing on Monday.

"As Dr. Cenksy has said losing accreditation would’ve been the first step to the Milwaukee Public Museum closing its doors forever, but I for one along with my colleagues and the county executive cannot imagine a Milwaukee County without this important institution," said Marcelia Nicholson, chairwoman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Jason Haas, who chairs the finance committee, said leading the county's funding of MPM the "highest honor" of his career.

Earlier this month, Censky showed TMJ4 News how their current space is deteriorating. The geology collection sits near old patched-up storm sewer and wastewater lines that could wreak havoc if they broke. They showed stalactites growing from the ceiling because of moisture seeping in, as well as, the buckets and yards of plastic ready for any leaks.

MPM's vast collection and accreditation are at risk due to an aging building that has deteriorated over time, according to MPM CEO and President Ellen Censky.

"You probably wouldn't build a building like this today. This building was built in the '60s and it has a storm sewer running right through this collection," Censky said as she took TMJ4 News on a tour of the conditions.

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The basement of the Milwaukee Public Museum, where leaky ceilings are causing some issues.

Censky showed storm sewer and wastewater lines that have been patched over the years and the stalactites growing from the ceiling due to moisture. She went on to say if the lines break and flood the basement, it would be "catastrophic."

"To lose this collection would mean that we would lose the best Silurian reef collection for science in the world. You can't replace the stuff," Censky said.

In another room, virtually everything is covered in plastic. There are cracks in the ceiling and walls, along with interior gutters and hanging buckets to catch leaking water.

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Censky says there is more than $50 million in deferred maintenance and their studies showed it is too expensive to stay in the current building.

Officials are up against an April 15 deadline to secure this last piece of the puzzle as part of a list of requirements before potentially losing its accreditation.

MPM's report for the accreditation must include a bridge plan on how they will protect the most vulnerable items, a capital campaign, and public funding. MPM estimates moving and building a new building will cost a total of $240 million. Censky explained $150 million would come from private money raised and the remaining $90 million would be a combination of public funds.

"I have to be confident that we'll get it because it is essential for us," Censky said.

If it all goes according to plan, MPM hopes to break ground at the new site in late 2023 and open a brand new facility, that they would share with the Betty Brinn Children's Museum, in 2026.

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