Work on Gables museum expected to start soon
By Suzy Valentine
Work on the Coral Gables Museum, which could cost up to $5.5 million, is to get under way within a month as part of the delayed Museum Parking Garage across the street is ready this week.
The museum, conceived by city officials 11 years ago, is to be built in a former jailhouse-turned-courtroom at Aragon Avenue and Salzedo Street with a projected opening in fall 2006.
"The project could cost anywhere between $2.5 million and $5.5 million, and it depends upon the specifications of the project," said City Commissioner Wayne "Chip" Withers, "though it is likely to be closer to $5 million."
More than 600 parking spaces at the Museum Parking Garage are to become available March 4, said city spokesperson Maria Rosa Higgins-Fallon, but office spaces and sidewalk construction won't be complete until mid-April.
Meanwhile, the city has received a grant from the state and is to receive $600,000 from Miami-Dade County's general-obligation bond toward the cost of the museum.
Renovation of the buildings is to include electrical and mechanical improvements and restoration of interiors.
"There are huge blocks of coral rock inside," said Dona Lubin, the city's historic resources director. "We'd like to reveal the oolitic limestone."
"We need to remove layers of stucco to display the construction," Mr. Withers said. "Huge blocks of rock were stacked, like an igloo.
"At the beginning of March, Public Works will be out of the building," he said. "The site plan is pretty much complete. We know what we want to do. We've hired an architect and put together a plan.
"It's going to redirect the focus of that whole area," he said. "A decade ago, when this idea was first started, it was just one room in an old fire station. Now it's taken on a life of its own.
"The key is preserving the building, which is a museum in itself," Mr. Withers said. "The more you learn about the building, the more you learn about the City of Coral Gables. There was a jail there, then a prisoners' yard and a courthouse. We have history, even though we're a relatively young city."
There have been some conflicts in trying to preserve the building and complying with state code, he said. Installation of hurricane-proof windows may necessitate drilling into existing coral rock.
The city has more than 100,000 artifacts in storage to fill the space and plans to augment that.
"There is quite a bit in small private collections," said Mr. Withers. "We'll even look on eBay."
The city has appointed Mary Agnes Beach as curator and purchased a software program to help catalog the artifacts. The museum could host touring exhibitions, said Mr. Withers.
"I'd love to showcase the Betsy Ross collection from the Smithsonian," he said.
Historic preservation is expected to be complete by year's end with the fitting of the museum to begin early next year.
The museum site, including a courtyard, covers 25,000 square feet, with 7,000 square feet of gallery space. An unquantified space will house the archives.
Officials intend to feature the characteristics of the former jailhouse.
"The main exhibit will be a storyline explaining the city's history," Mr. Withers said. "That will be exhibited through the jail cells, which lend themselves to linear exhibits."
Ms. Lubin said the original, 1930s-vintage courtroom is to become a gift shop.