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Milwaukee Public Museum gives inside look at deteriorating conditions as they work on moving

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Posted at 7:06 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-10 10:54:55-05

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors plans to decide whether to pitch in $45 million to help support the Milwaukee Public Museum's (MPM) move to a new location.

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.

The museum keeps more than 4 million items that represent every county in the state and beyond, along with cultures from around the world.

"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.

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will soon discuss giving the museum $45 million to move out of its current home and into a new building near 6th and McKinley. 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. Censky noted MPM already secured state funding and plans to try and get federal money as well. 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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