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WAUKESHA - Construction of 30 apartments inside the Waukesha County Historical Society and Museum building is expected to launch May 31, with completion potentially at the end of this year.

The building project will put society and museum functions "on sabbatical," museum executive director Dennis Cerreta acknowledged on May 16.

"We look at the construction time as a gift of a sabbatical for our exhibitions," Cerreta said. "While the developers create a more ideal space for our exhibits, our curator, education director and program committee have the time to review our collections to determine how to use our extensive artifacts to tell the stories of Waukesha County in a new and fascinating light." 

The museum, 101 E. Main St., will not have operating hours during construction, Cerreta said. However, the society's research center, library and archives will be available by appointment during construction, according to a news release.

Living plan

The society in 2015 entered into an agreement with Historic Prairieview Limited to convert portions of the century-old former courthouse into 30 "high-end apartments." Developer Alan Huelsman owns Prairieview. 

The living units, ranging from 1,100 to 1,400 square feet, will be on the building's second and third floors. The courtroom that has languished unused and in disrepair for years will be renovated for use as a banquet hall.

The $5 million project will be partially financed by historic tax preservation credits.

Cerreta said the museum will have access to the hall for its use – mainly educational and fundraising projects. 

Museum plan

The museum will occupy the first floor, Cerreta said.

Much of the attention has focused on the Prairieview Ltd. project, but planning for the museum's exhibits and themes is ongoing, Cerreta said.

Bonnie Byrd, the museum's curator, said initial plans have the museum laid out in four sections for its 18,000 historic pieces.

The entryway will present exhibits from throughout Waukesha County. Another area will present the importance of water in the county, from the Lake Country area to the springs of the city of Waukesha

Other exhibits will explore the moniker of Cow County U.S.A. from past to present and people through time, from Native Americans to immigrants to current residents.

Byrd worked with Carroll University students this spring developing a survey of the proposed exhibit ideas to receive community feedback for the exhibit development.

"We need to be reflective in this ... incorporate areas that folks are interested in," she said.

Ceretta stressed that museum exhibits will represent all of Waukesha County.

The revamped museum likely will not be completed when it formally re-opens at the end of the year. Education and research programs will remain priorities, he said.

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