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Anyone interested in delving into Waukesha's past can rejoice: The Waukesha County Museum, 101 W. Main St., has reopened.

'It's a little bit like, 'Mind the dust,'' said Museum Curator Bonnie Byrd, referring to ongoing construction inside the museum linked to a redevelopment project. 'But we're open.'

The museum's new limited hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, and will remain that way 'until construction permits,' said Dennis Cerreta, the museum's executive director.

'We're halfway opening our arms again to the community so they know we're here,' Cerreta added.

The first two days the museum was open were Friday, July 15, and Saturday, July 16.

New, returning exhibits

Some familiar, and popular, exhibits — on Waukesha native and music legend Les Paul and the Civil War — will be on display for museum-goers to enjoy in addition to a new exhibit.

The new exhibit features the life and work of a local Rube Goldberg-type inventor and salesman named Russell Oakes, Byrd said.

Volunteer museum historian and former school teacher John Schoenknecht was scheduled to be on hand from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday to share stories and answer questions about Oakes, and Byrd said she hopes to bring in more speakers in the future to offer similar talks.

The portions of the museum that are open are contained inside the connector building between the former Waukesha County courthouse and jail.

When construction is complete, the museum will move into permanent residence in the old courthouse, Byrd said.

Development project

All the renovations to the museum are being done in conjunction with a redevelopment project, proposed by local developer Alan Huelsman, aimed at transforming portions of the museum site into an apartment complex and a banquet hall.

In April, plans for the project stalled in the approval process but were not nixed.

Huelsman has said that his proposal for the building was intended in part to 'save the museum.' His team would be responsible for the building's expenses and maintenance, which in the past rocked the museum's finances, given the age of the former courthouse.

Under Huelsman's concept, the museum would enter a long-term lease agreement to remain in the building.

Cerreta said July 14 the agreement is for 25 years with a renewal option, and the museum would only pay $1 a year in rent. 'We're going to make sure the system and the plan works for the building,' he said.

He added that, optimistically, construction is scheduled to conclude in 18 months.

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