Legislators push bill to finish Transportation Museum renovation

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 7, 2019

SPENCER — To complete renovations to part of North Carolina Transportation Museum, its foundation and legislators have proposed a bill to provide millions in state funding.

In 2005, the museum began renovating its Power House facility, the last major building on the property to go through upgrades. The building is the second-oldest structure at the museum and has not been renovated in the past 40 years.

In the past 14 years, the state and the N.C. Transportation Museum Foundation have spent $3.1 million to remove lead paint and asbestos and stabilize the building.

From 2006 to 2014, the foundation requested additional funding five times, but it was refused because of the recession and natural disasters.

Reps. Harry Warren, R-76, and Julia Howard, R-77, have sponsored a bill with two other representatives to appropriate money to complete the renovations. The bill asks for money to be appropriated to the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Division of State Historic Sites in the amounts of $2.5 million for the 2019-20 fiscal year and $2 million for the 2020-21 fiscal year.

Roy Johnson, president of the museum foundation, met with legislators in Raleigh on Wednesday to advocate for the bill. He said the foundation is optimistic about getting the funding, especially considering the economic impact the completion of the Power House will have on Spencer and Rowan County.

“I would say it’s about time,” Johnson said.

Johnson estimated the museum brings in $19 million a year. He expects the museum to be able to put the $4 million back into the economy in eight years. As the museum grows, the renovation is a key project.

Warren called the museum an economic engine, saying programs like the Polar Express train ride and Day Out With Thomas attract visitors to the county.

Johnson said he also spoke to Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, on Wednesday about introducing a companion bill to push the appropriations request forward.

The money would complete the building and get it up to code with heating and air conditioning, fire protection, and restrooms. The space could be used for rental space and other museum activities. The Power House is bigger than the Master Mechanic’s Office and smaller than the Back Shop.

Reps. George Cleveland, R-14, and Pat McElraft, R-13, are primary sponsors of the bill, which will provide a “very strong statement,” Warren said. Cleveland is chairman of the General Government Appropriations Committee, and McElraft is chairman of the Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources Appropriations. Howard, along with being a representative for a portion of Rowan County, is the senior chairwoman of the Finance Committee, on which Warren is a chairman.

Warren said the bill will be assigned to a committee today.