In February 2000, the 1912 Missouri Pacific Depot at Prescott, which houses the Nevada County Depot Museum, was the beneficiary of a $206,110 grant for renovation and restoration. Funding of $164,888 came from the grant with an additional $41,222 from a 20% local match. The City of Prescott paid the local match, plus the architect's fee of $18,900, the $2,061 fee for grant administration, $3,700 for refinishing cabinets and displays, and $1,000 for alarm system equipment and three years of monitoring. The $66,883 came from the City's 2001 and 2002 one-cent sales tax designated for community development. The total renovation and restoration project was $233,771.
The grant application was written in November 1999, by Karen Ward of the Prescott City Council while she served as the manager of the Prescott Downtown Development Office. Without Ms. Ward's effort, the grant and resulting improvements would not have been possible.
The grant was under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) (1988). It was administered by the Arkansas State Highway Commission as part of the Arkansas Transportation Enhancement Program. Commissioner Mary P. "Prissy" Hickerson of Texarkana, who announced the grant, said requests were for about $26 million and only 82 grants for $13 million were funded for projects such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities, landscaping, scenic highway development and historic preservation.
Since the grant was a fast-track project, the Prescott City Council accepted it in January 2001 and hired French and Harris Architects of Hot Springs to draw up the plans. One of the firm's partners, Ricco Harris, is a native of Prescott. Bids were to be ready by April 2001 and construction underway by August 2001.
The time line had to be altered. It was hoped to not only renovate the interior and exterior of the building, but also improve the parking lots, fencing and other outside features. The cost of the total project was going to require the work to be done in phases, with some under this grant and some under a future grant. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department wanted the exterior work done first.
In order to improve the parking lots with grant funding, the City of Prescott either had to own the property or have a 30-year lease on it. While the City owned the depot building and land under it (essentially a gift from the Missouri Pacific Railroad in 1970), the land around the building was under a year-to-year lease at $150 per year. Union Pacific Railroad (the successor to MoPac) would agree to a 30-year lease only if the City increased the annual lease amount to $1,500 and pay it in advance. The City investigated the purchase of the property, but decided to continue the existing lease. Therefore, the parking lot improvements were removed from the work to be done with this grant.
What first seemed to be a setback actually provided the opportunity to do all exterior and interior work on the building with this grant.
The TEA-21 grant program required 32 specific steps before construction could start. In addition, three other agencies had to be included in the approval of the plans. The Arkansas Historic Presentation Program, Americans with Disabilities Association and the National Registry of Historic Places each rejected the plans twice for minor details. When a rejection was made, the approval process had to begin over again.
Plans were eventually approved, and Edie Construction of Malvern was selected as the
contractor. The bid was $179,000, far lower than the possible $207,500. Another $27,710 of work was added, including more exterior lights, refinishing of the original wood floor in the freight storage room, fencing around the air conditioner unit, and a burglar alarm.
Originally, the museum was to remain partly open during the renovation and restoration with a move to the former office of the health unit. However, that building was needed for other purposes by the county, so the plans were changed to close the museum during the project and store the exhibits, displays and fixtures in the former hospital building. The museum closed by Tuesday, January 22, 2002, so the exhibits could be packed for storage. Several employees of the City of Prescott and volunteers spent many hours helping with the move, especially the fixtures and heavy displays.
Work began in mid-February 2002. The work was essentially complete within the six-month time frame. City employees and volunteers once again provided many hours of help to return several fixtures and showcases to the building in early November 2002. On November 17, 2002 a VIP tour of the museum was conducted for the City Council and depot's board of directors and the work was accepted.
Next, Depot Museum personnel will complete the move of artifacts, rearrange the exhibits, and get the museum ready to reopen. At that time, a grand re-opening was planned.
The depot building has undergone many changes in its history. The restoration and renovation was not intended to restore the building to any specific point in the past, but rather to create .a taste of the
historic past. The grant required the exterior of the building to be restored as close to the original condition as possible, with the exception of making it handicap accessible. The large, open porch was converted to a freight room in the 1940s, so that period was chosen for the exterior of the building.
By then, electricity was readily available and exterior lighting had been added to the building. The grant had no requirements for interior renovations. Initial renovation plans included a modern style with suspended ceilings and low archways for modern doors. The plans were changed to a style consistent with the 1930s with the facilities to function as a state-of-the-art museum. Now, much of the building gives the impression of a mid-1900s train station waiting room.
Here is a list of some of the work done on the project:
Jon Chadwell, prior Executive Director of the Prescott-Nevada County Economic Development Office, handled most of the planning details and monitored the construction.