An 80-year-old art deco building that houses the Kansas Aviation Museum has been updated with modern amenities: an elevator, updated restrooms on the second floor and a drinking fountain.
But it’s the heating and cooling system that museum officials expect will get the most appreciation.
“We have a comfortable building and our signs on the elevators are a little tongue-in-cheek when we say, ‘Enjoy our cool museum,’” museum director Daniel Bateman said.
The city of Wichita and the Kansas Aviation Museum split the cost of the $1.3 million renovation project to make the building handicapped-compliant and more comfortable for visitors in the summer and winter months.
All the changes should be completed by the second week of August, said Bateman, who started in his position earlier this summer. He came to Wichita from Sheboygan, Wis., where he was executive director of Spaceport Sheboygan, a space museum.
“Our ultimate goal is to preserve Kansas aviation and share it with the public,” he said. “By making these renovations … it’s more comfortable for them year round.”
Construction of the Wichita Municipal Airport terminal, where the museum now is, was completed in 1935. The 56,000-square-foot building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of 12 early air terminals remaining in the nation. The Indian art deco building was designed by Wichita architect Glen Thomas, who also designed North High School.
Because the building is on the historic register, museum officials have to be careful not to damage the historic nature of the building when making renovations. For example, Bateman hopes to eventually make the west entrance the entry point to the building. To do that, a ramp will need to be added to adhere to the Americans with Disabilities Act, while maintaining the integrity of the building.
“Those challenges are interesting to deal with when you take a historic building and try to make it work with today’s society,” he said. “You have things like ADA that didn’t exist 80 years ago.”
Despite the modern conveniences, Bateman said the project didn’t change the feel of the building. The handicapped-accessible restrooms have the same deco color scheme as the building, and the light fixtures resemble 1930s-era sconces.
“We try to make it look and feel like you’re not going from 1945 to 2015,” he said. “Even the sinks aren’t automatic sinks. You have to physically touch them to turn them on, so we might have to do lessons for the younger kids on how to actually turn a faucet on in the restroom.”
Construction workers put the final touches on the building in late July – hooking up buttons for the elevator, placing toilet paper dispensers in the restrooms and setting up a new smoke alarm system.
Bateman said the museum is prepared for higher energy bills because of the new heating and cooling system. Before the renovation, only the front offices and curatorial area were heated and cooled. Still, he said the new system is computer controlled and operates efficiently.
He doesn’t expect “outrageous” bills, he said.
Now that the space is comfortable, Bateman plans to rent out the second floor for events, bringing in more income to the museum. In fact, the first wedding is Aug. 8.
The museum is celebrating its 25th anniversary next month, and a fundraising gala will follow in September. “For the first time in a long time,” the gala will actually be at the museum, Bateman said.
Future projects are still being discussed, he said, and the public should expect some “big” announcements later this fall.
In the meantime, museum visitors will be able to enjoy a cool building the rest of the summer.
“You can go out and look at the planes and come back and cool off,” Bateman said, “instead of going out and seeing the planes and coming in and sweating more.”