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Historic Society seeks county help with improvements
Group asking commissioners for aid in new bathrooms
0715 HES file
The Historic Effingham Society wants to add bathrooms as it brings more visitors to the Old Jail Museum, above, and Living History Site. - photo by File photo

The Historic Effingham Society wants to make improvements to the Living History Site and the Effingham Museum — and it’s looking for some help from the county commissioners.

Richard Loper of the Historic Effingham Society has asked for the county’s assistance in constructing bathrooms at the Living History Site. There are bathrooms in the Old Jail Museum, but Loper acknowledged those facilities are not handicapped-accessible.

“The reasons for this is we’re having larger and larger groups visit the museum,” he said.

Commissioners are expected to take up the matter at their Aug. 5 meeting, and Loper initially made his plea in August for help with bathrooms.

Part of the Living History Site and museum lies on city of Springfield property. The spot where the Historic Effingham Society wants to construct bathrooms is on the county-owned section. Loper said the group wants to put the bathrooms between the Old Jail Museum and the Seckinger-Bridgers House, the first of the buildings to be moved to the Living History Site, converting an old wellhouse for the purpose.

“We’re not in the bathroom building business,” Loper said. “We can move an old building.”

The projected cost for the bathrooms is $31,000, and Loper said the HES has had several people look at the project.
“We’ve got some things we can include in there that need to be done,” he said.

The Historic Effingham Society has rented portable toilets when the site expects a sizable number of visitors, “and those aren’t the greatest things around for festivals and large groups,” Loper added.

The museum and the Living History Site are becoming more popular with tour groups and other visitors, Loper said. The site has brought in groups as large as 300 people at one time. There is a restroom in the museum, which is on county property, and a restroom in the Boy Scout Hut, which is on the city portion of the site.

“We bring in people to the county who might not come here otherwise,” he said. “That’s some of the best dollars we can get in this county is from tourists coming here. They have money to spend, and we want them here.”

Commissioner Vera Jones said she wanted more time and also wanted to see what interest Springfield might have in the project.

“I think some more need time and information,” she said.

Jones said the county doesn’t want to appear as if it is giving money to a non-profit group at the exclusion of other such organizations, so she asked that any deal struck between the county and the Historic Effingham Society be a contract for services.

“If we’re going to continue that route and spend money, we need to do that, so we’re getting a service back if we’re spending taxpayer dollars,” she said. “We need to look at a contract of services so we get this particular relationship in line like we did with the Chamber of Commerce.”

Chairman Wendall Kessler said one difference in this instance is that the county already owns the land.

“It’s not just writing a check to a non-profit,” he said.

Loper told commissioners the county and the city have been good to the Historic Effingham Society and its efforts over the years. But new bathrooms are a need.

“We’re in the unique position in that we’re sitting on part of the county and part of the city,” he said.
“But to grow, some of the things we need funding on we haven’t been able to do. Restrooms is one of the issues. That’s our number one priority. We need it really, really bad.”

Loper said the volunteers for the HES are ardent and active. During his April appearance before commissioners, he said the group recorded 174 volunteer hours to that point. There are two part-time people on staff at the Museum, he said, even though they work about 40 hours a week.

“We’re not short in people working,” he said. “This year alone, we have had 174 volunteer hours. We’ve got people who are willing. We’ve got the best volunteer group. They are unbelievable people. They give of themselves. We’re history nuts, or we wouldn’t be doing this.”

A golf tournament raised $6,000 for the Historic Effingham Society, and the HES also has raised money through dinner sales. The group once received funding from the county, but that ended.

“We have had to raise money for nearly everything we’ve done,” he said.

The Living History Site has been the beneficiary of some recent donations, including the old Blandford depot and the money to have it moved.

“We’re in the process of building a one-room school now,” Loper said. “It’s a replica of the Bethel school. We had one guy who funded that entire school. He wrote us a check and if that’s not enough, I’ll write you another check. We were lucky enough to get the bell that came out of the original Clyo school. We almost fell out when it popped in. We are truly blessed with our citizens.”

The floors have been cut out and are ready for drain lines to go in but no new equipment has been purchased. Loper said he would love to see the county to take part in the improvements. Commissioners are expected to have the issue on their Aug. 4 agenda.

“I would love to see the county support this project,” he said, “regardless of what happens with the city of Springfield.”