Groundbreaking set Thursday for new Becker County Museum

Groundbreaking festivities for the new Becker County Museum building are set for this Thursday, May 27 at 11 a.m. After the ceremony, attendees may want to head inside the existing museum building at 714 Summit Ave. to take a peek at the new Detroit Lakes Sesquicentennial exhibit, which opens the same day.

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A groundbreaking ceremony for the new 30,000-square-foot Becker County Museum is set for this Thursday, May 27 at 11 a.m. Bids for the project, estimated at $6.4 million, came in about $400,000 higher than anticipated, which means a public campaign to raise the last $500,000 needed for the project will also be launched on the same day. (Illustration courtesy of Becker County Museum)

A project that has been more than a decade in the making — the construction of a new Becker County Museum in Detroit Lakes — will culminate in a groundbreaking ceremony set for this Thursday, May 27 at 11 a.m.

City, township, county and state officials have been invited, and several are expected to attend, according to the museum's executive director, Becky Mitchell.
Also launching that day is a new exhibit celebrating Detroit Lakes' Sesquicentennial — i.e., 150th birthday — along with a public campaign to raise the last $500,000 for construction of the new 30,000-square-foot facility, adjacent to the Historic Holmes Theatre.

"We still have about $500,000 to raise because bids for the new building came in about $400,000 higher than anticipated," said Mitchell. The original estimate for construction of the two-story facility was $6.4 million, with about half of that amount funded via a bonding bill appropriation approved by the Minnesota State Legislature in October.

To help launch the campaign, the museum will be offering white spruce tree seedlings in exchange for donations, of any size.

"We'll be giving out about 400 trees," said Mitchell, adding that there would also be biodegradable pots available for those who couldn't immediately plant the seedlings in the ground. "We like to think of it as planting trees for the future."


The reasons why the museum board of directors opted to move ahead with the project despite the higher-than-projected bids were twofold: One, costs aren't expected to come down any if the project is re-bid, and two, "our (existing) building is crumbling down around us," Mitchell said. "We need to get out of here."

The museum's basement level is now "permanently closed," Mitchell said, due to significant water damage. This means that all of the museum's current programs and exhibits need to be housed in its upper level and lobby area.

"This means our children's science area is closed also," she added, noting that it won't be reopened until the new facility is finished. Summer camps, art classes and other public events need to be held in the museum's presentation space, or outside the facility.

Though this also means the museum's exhibition space is more cramped than ever before, the staff is nevertheless preparing to open a sizable new exhibit, on Detroit Lakes' Sesquicentennial. The 150th birthday exhibit includes 35 history panels sponsored by the museum itself, plus another 25 banners sponsored by local businesses and organizations.

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This historic photo of the railroad depot at the corner of Washington Avenue and Highway 10 in downtown Detroit Lakes is one of several that will be included in a new Detroit Lakes Sesquicentennial exhibit opening this Thursday, May 27 at the Becker County Museum. The exhibit will remain on display through the end of the year. (Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

"Each panel will be paired with artifacts from our collection that match the story we're telling," said Emily Buermann, the museum's programming director.

There will also be several interactive components to the exhibit, such as the use of an authentic stereoscope for viewing images of the city; the stereoscope's viewer makes the images appear to be three dimensional, Buermann added.


"These are the oldest photos of the city that we have in our collection," she said.

There will also be a gallery of promotional buttons from the Detroit Lakes Water Carnival — "We're only missing one or two of the buttons," Buermann said — and several pieces of memorabilia from Detroit Lakes' city centennial celebration in 1971.

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This promotional button from the 75th Northwest Water Carnival in 2010 is one of dozens that the Becker County Museum has in its possession. A gallery of the buttons will be included in the Detroit Lakes Sesquicentennial exhibit, which opens this Thursday, May 27 at the museum. (Photo courtesy of Becker County Museum)

"We did learn quite a few new, fun tidbits about the city while we were researching," said Buermann, adding that the exhibit has been a couple of years in the planning.

The exhibit is set to open the same day as the groundbreaking ceremony, and will remain on display through the end of the year, Mitchell said.

After that, the sesquicentennial exhibit will close temporarily, before reopening in a new, expanded format when the new building is finished.

"The expanded exhibit will also include information about Becker County's sesquicentennial," Buermann said (the 150th anniversary of the formation of the county's government is also this year).


For more information about the exhibit, as well as upcoming classes and summer camps at the museum, visit (tickets for the events can be purchased at the museum's online store) or call 218-847-2938.

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