Bethel Planning Board approves site plan for Mineral and Gem Museum.
It took nearly 300 million years for western Maine tourmaline, formed in the hardening crust of our planet, to find it's way to Bethel village.
It took only an hour and quarter last Wednesday evening for the Bethel Planing Board to approve plans for the new mineral and gem museum that will display the tourmaline, along with more than 200 other speciments, most from the earth, but others that fell from the sky as meteorites.
The museum was not a new topic for the Planning Board — in 2010 the board approved a site plan for the museum as it was then envisioned.
The site involved was the former Kennett Reality building on lower Main Street, but since then plans for the museum have expanded.
Museum Director Gena Schwam introduced the new plan.
“We have expanded our roles and our mission for the museum,” Schwam told the board.
“Our hope is to build a museum here in town that will be a cultural resource for the state of Maine but also all of New England.
“It will be the first gem and mineral of its kind anywhere in the region that will tell the unique mining story of Maine, representing the mining histories of the people who shaped the history here, as well as the minerals and gems themselves.
"It will also be a research instutution,with facilities for scientists to come and study our collection, and there will be educational resources for kids in the area who may not have had access to a science museum before.
“Nothing exists like it in the state and our goal is to use the two properties we already own under the MMGM LLC, and then build a connector between the two to expand our facilities and our floor footage so that we can show more exhibits and also have more space for research facilities and staff offices.”
The new plan includes, in addition to the Kennett Reality building, the former Oddfellows Hall at the corner of Main and Chapman streets, as well as a new connector to link to be built between the two buildings.
The project's architect is Jim Reuter of Smith Reuter Lull Architects of Lewiston.
Reuter, a Bethel resident, tolt the board the design goal of of the project was to blend the character of the two existing buildings, as well as the other historical buildings in that part of the village.
Square footage of the two-story museum will be 14,200, with 9,400 from the existing buildings and 4,800 from the new construction.
The extimated project cost is $870,000.
The Planning Board's “findings of fact” review for the project's performance standards moved briskly, in large part because of thorough documentation in the project's 3/8sof an inch thick application.
Following an hour of deliberations the board signed off on the project, conditional on some minor amendments to the plan.
Following the meeting Schwan said: “We are thrilled to have the Town’s approval for our museum project. It means that we can move forward with our plans and start the work necessary to build the connector building within the next few months.
“We’re also hard at work getting ready to launch our website, where we will post frequent updates about the project.
We’re looking forward to connecting with the community and getting their help with building our collection, and we’ll be actively seeking volunteers later this year.”