Museum celebrates new structure, name in new year

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published February 8, 2016

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BIRMINGHAM — It’s only February, but already 2016 is shaping up to be a big year for the Birmingham Historical Museum and Park.

Or should we say, the Birmingham Museum.

The historical museum in downtown Birmingham asked residents and business owners in the city to share their input on the attraction’s name last month. An online survey drew only a couple hundred participants, but that was enough to gauge the public’s thoughts, according to museum Director Leslie Pielack.

“We found the respondents to the survey preferred the name the Birmingham Museum over the options,” she said. Other options included the Museum of Birmingham, Birmingham Museum and Archives, the Birmingham Cultural Museum and the Birmingham Heritage Center.

Museum board member Kate Montgomery said the Birmingham Heritage Center came in second on the survey, with about 27 percent of the overall vote, but the more simple moniker of the Birmingham Museum came out on top, with about 32 percent.

“I think we’ve had a couple name changes throughout the years since (the museum) first opened, but I think this name will kind of streamline what Birmingham is looking to do with the museum,” said Montgomery.

Aside from being just too long, the title the Birmingham Historical Museum and Park just doesn’t encompass everything the institution has to offer, which of course includes historical information and artifacts, but also more current events and exhibitions to give visitors a glimpse of city culture from past to present.

The next step, she explained, is to take the new name recommendation — which the board approved unanimously during its Feb. 4 meeting — to the City Commission for approval.

“We hope it will pass and go through quickly,” said Montgomery.

And the sooner the name is decided, the better. That’s because the museum has big construction plans for the summer, and it would be helpful to have the name in place for appropriate signage.

“We’ve been raising funds to construct the Hill School bell structure since plans were developed,” Pielack explained. “We did grass-roots campaigns and events, the Friends of the Museum contributed money, and we (collected) a number of private donations. But we finally made it.”

The museum set out in 2011 to raise the $40,000 needed to complete the construction phase of the outdoor structure that would become the new home of the historic Hill School bell.

The school was demolished in 1969, and the famed bell that greeted Birmingham school children for generations has been passed from the Birmingham Public Schools district to the historical museum.

“We received funds really from all over Michigan, not just Birmingham,” Pielack said. “This project has definitely touched people’s hearts.”

The biggest contribution came from the Rosso Family Foundation, which Pielack said has supported public projects in the city for years.

“The current generation of Rosso — I believe that would make it the grandparents — attended the Hill School. When the bell project came, it was especially meaningful to them,” she said.

From the initial phase of the project that called for an engineering study and architectural drawings, to a matching grant for the construction and a final donation to close the financial gap, the foundation contributed a total of $34,532 to the project.

The gazebo-like structure, which was inspired by the school’s original cupola, will protect the historic bell and keep it on display for the city to see year-round. It’s set to be installed this spring between the Allen House and the Hunter House on the museum’s complex.

“Because this is a city property, we’ll follow the city’s procedure for a request construction project, and we’ll develop a request for proposals,” Pielack said. “We’ll consider qualified bids, and once a bid has been awarded, we’ll start construction.”

She added that if the structure is completed this summer, ideally, a dedication would be held in early fall as schools open.

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