State Historical Society of Missouri to receive new home

Ellis Library stores 0.5 percent of the society’s collection.

In the basement of Ellis Library, the State Historical Society’s headquarters, there’s nowhere near enough room for the thousands of illustrations by 19th century explorers, the canvases of 20th century political artists or the more than 14,000 editorial cartoons that make up just a part of its collection.

Society spokeswoman Mary Ellen Lohmann said there’s only enough space for one-half of one percent of that collection.

But the space constraints will end soon enough. As part of the state’s 2015 budget, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved the construction of a $37 million, four-story research center and museum to house the society’s operations and displays.

The new building, proposed by committee chairman Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, will host the state’s third-largest art gallery, at 8,000 square feet, and a collection of works stretching from Missouri’s frontier beginnings to its time as a hub of industry after World War II. The complex will also feature a 165-seat auditorium, as well as specialized research spaces with more than 5,200 linear feet of printed material, Lohmann said in an email.

Of the $37 million needed to fund the new construction, $33 million will come from state aid while the remaining $4 million, Lohmann said, will come from private donations to the historical society.

The building is set to replace the Heinkel Building on Locust and Seventh streets, which for now is used for teacher training, as well as its adjacent parking lot north of Peace Park. MU owns the Heinkel Building, and Lohmann said MU has yet to set a target date for the construction to begin.

Regardless of when it happens, she said, the move will be a much-needed change.

“A new home will provide for interdisciplinary exploration of the state’s past, while paving the way for Missouri’s future,” Lohmann said.

A new home, now years in the making, will also protect the thousands of items in storage, Schaefer said at a press conference.

"I think it is time … to build that facility and to make sure the priceless collections we've got now in the basement of the university library don't succumb to water damage or anything else and ... are available for the public to enjoy,” Schaefer said.

Now, most of the historical society’s collection is kept in on- and off-site storage facilities. But following the mold bloom that last year damaged more than 600,000 books in Ellis Library’s privately-contracted Subtera storage complex, officials like Schaefer are wary that it could happen again.

Criticism came last week from Gov. Jay Nixon, who said lawmakers — including Schaefer, whom he singled out by name — have misplaced their priorities when it comes to state funding.

In a press conference Friday, Nixon announced he’ll be forced to cut $22 million from education in the $26.6 billion 2015 budget. He blamed the cut on Republican legislators, whom he said were unwilling to fund pay increases for child abuse investigators, yet still able to spend $33 million on a project like the historical society’s new building.

"It is often said that budgets are about priorities, and a budget that cuts funding to keep abused children safe but adds funding for a brand-new government building does not reflect our priorities or our values as Missourians,” Nixon said.

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