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County: Courthouse renovation opens space for museum

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

The building that houses the county’s planning, building and stormwater departments may soon be the new home of the Georgetown County Museum.

County Council members gave first reading this week to an ordinance that would authorize a 30-year lease of the building, at 120 Broad St., to the Georgetown County Historical Society, which operates the museum.

The offices that currently occupy the building will move to the old courthouse on Screven Street once ongoing renovations to that facility are complete later this year.

The county wants to move all its departments that deal with the public under one roof, and the effort represents a “fantastic opportunity” for the museum, said its director, Jill Santopietro. The museum has been looking for a larger space for nearly two years.

“Our current facility on Prince Street is full to capacity,” Santopietro said. “It’s frustrating, because there’s so much out there the community tells us they want to share, and we really want to take it in and preserve and protect it, but we don’t have the space to display it, or the working space to clean it up and conserve it.”

The 7,500-square-foot county-owned building will allow the museum to grow to about three times its size, allowing it to expand its collection and add programming, as well as archive space where visitors can do research.

The museum is hoping to start moving into the new building this winter, but it hinges on how quickly renovations at the courthouse proceed.

County Administrator Sel Hemingway said plans are to finish the first phase of renovations by the end of September and start moving offices around within the courthouse in October.

“We’re still on schedule, assuming we don’t have any supplier problems,” Hemingway said. “There is some opinion that installation of the carpet may take longer than expected and cause a delay of a month or so.”

Space in the courthouse was made available this summer, when the county moved its court functions to the new judicial center on Cleland Street.

Plans are to move council’s chambers into the grand courtroom and convert the small courtroom council currently uses into the stormwater department. The planning, building and Geographic Information Systems departments will be moved into that same second floor wing.

The departments in that wing now, including finance, procurement and human resources, will move to the other side of that floor, or up to the third floor, where renovations are already under way.

Once those offices are set up in their new space, work can begin to get the areas still in use refurbished and restructured so offices can begin moving in from the other building.

Hemingway said staff is looking forward to the move and is getting more excited as renovations progress.

“We’ve been talking about this now for so long and work has been going on so long it’s become routine, but now the wallboard is going up and all, so you start to see definition for how the different spaces are going to be.”

Once the Broad Street building is vacated, Santopietro said the museum will be ready to begin retrofitting it immediately, but it could take a while to get the museum moved.

“We’ve got a lot of artifacts that have to be moved very carefully,” she said. “We’ll probably do it in stages.”

It’s too early to say how much work will need to be done to the building to transform it into a museum, but Santopietro said she’s “excited at the prospect of what we have there.”

“It’s a very sound building and it puts us in a better spot in the historic district,” she said.

The building is between Georgetown’s two other museums, the Rice Museum and the Kaminski House Museum, both on Front Street.

Broad Street was suggested for use as a main entrance to Georgetown in a study conducted last year on ways to attract tourists downtown, so Santopietro said she believes the new location will make the museum more visible.

The lease ordinance will need two more readings by council before the deal is done.

Council Members Glen O’Connell and Jerry Oakley said they don’t see any problems with the ordinance moving forward.

“That is a vibrant and active group, and I am persuaded that they have the desire, the will and the ability to assume the building and to operate a facility that will attract visitors and that Georgetown County will be proud of,” Oakley said.

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