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Funding needed for Back Shop restoration

By Holly Fesperman Lee

Salisbury Post

Members of the North Carolina Transportation Museum Foundation will host a breakfast for state legislators in an effort to gain funding for Phase II of the Back Shop restoration project.

They will tell the lawmakers the museum needs about $24 million to complete the next part of the long-term restoration project.

Roy Johnson, executive director of the foundation, will give a presentation during the Raleigh breakfast set for Feb. 27, telling legislators about the museum’s importance.

Phase II of the three-phase project includes finishing the interior of the Back Shop and putting a roof on the Power House.

At 150,000 square feet, the Back Shop is the largest building on the museum’s property. When Spencer Shops was operating, the Back Shop was used to do major repair work and complete engine overhauls on steam locomotives.

Phase I of the Back Shop restoration was completed in April 2004. In that phase, workers removed hazardous materials, stabilized the structure, rebuilt the roof, repaired the brick work and installed new windows and doors.

The Power House is a small building adjacent to the Back Shop that once generated all the power for Spencer Shops. In Phase II, workers will install a new roof on the Power House.

Plans call for eventually installing all the mechanical systems for the renovated Back Shop, such as heating and air conditioning units.

While the museum’s main goal is education and historic preservation, Johnson’s presentation will also include information about visitor numbers and economic impact, according to Misty Ebel, membership director and development coordinator for the foundation.

Dr. Larry Gustke, an associate professor of parks, recreation and tourism management at North Carolina State University, is conducting an economic impact study.

Johnson will share information from the study during his presentation.

An N.C. State University economic impact study conducted about 10 years ago estimated the museum’s impact on Rowan County and the surrounding area at $8 million annually, according to Natalie Alford, museum information and communications specialist.

“We’re hopeful that this current study will show an even greater increase,” Alford said.

While many legislators may know the museum well, many of the state’s newest lawmakers may not be as familiar with museum projects, Ebel said.

“It’s a very important project for this community and for this state,” she said.

Since the museum gets visitors from all over the state and nation, the foundation wants legislators on the coast to know people in their districts enjoy the museum, too, according to Ebel.

Visitor numbers crossed the 100,000 mark last year for the first time since 2002, according to Alford.

The museum gets state funding through the Department of Cultural Resources, and Alford said she wasn’t sure exactly how much money the department will request.

Alford said at the legislative breakfast, “we’re just hoping for a positive response.”

Phase III of the project should take another two years during which officials expect to collect artifacts and install exhibits in the Back Shop. Alford said the Department of Cultural Resources isn’t asking for money to complete Phase III at this time.

Once the entire project is complete, “this is really going to open us up to be more comprehensive,” Ebel said.

“We’ll be able to offer so much more as far as exploring the site,” Alford said.

Even though it focuses on the railroad, the museum will eventually reflect the history of all transportation in North Carolina.

Among the proposed exhibits is a DC-3 passenger plane, one of the first ever flown by Piedmont Airlines.

Ebel said museum visitors ask how the project is progressing all the time. “People cannot wait for this thing to open up,” she said.

For more information on the North Carolina Transportation Museum, go online to the museum’s Web site, www.nctrans.org.

Contact Holly Lee at 704-797-7683 or hlee@salisburypost.com.

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