The Gulfport History Museum will be open for business again in about 30 days after the completion of a renovation process that has been ongoing since the facility closed following a fire that occurred on the morning of Labor Day Monday, September 3, 2018, said Director of Public Works Tom Nicholls.
The city of Gulfport owns the wooden building that is about 100 years old located at 5301 28th Ave. S. For $1 a year, the facility is leased to the non-profit Gulfport Historical Society (GHS) that is in charge of curating, maintaining and displaying the contents. Members of the society have also been in charge of overseeing renovation processes regarding the museum’s contents.
The fire was a close call for an old wooden building, said Gulfport Fire Chief James V. Marenkovic on the day of the blaze. Firefighters from Gulfport, South Pasadena and St. Petersburg “did an excellent job of saving the museum for the amount of fire that was there.”
No one was injured in the fire. David Eugene Knoll, 56, of Gulfport was arrested on the day of the fire and charged with felony arson. Knoll is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing at the Pinellas County Justice Center in Clearwater on April 5.
In addition to structural items like the front porch and door along with some shiplap siding and part of the roof that were damaged by smoke and fire, city staff also determined that the handicap ramp and underpinnings of the porch had deteriorated from age and needed to be replaced, said Nicholls.
“We had to get an engineer on board to design a new ramp and that will go under construction within the next two weeks or so. It should take one week to build it,” he said.
In addition, when fire renovation contractors were doing some fascia work, dry rot was discovered in some of the window frames and that had to be addressed, said City Manager Jim O’Reilly. Because windows are being replaced, they have to be up to current code regarding hurricane standards.
“Instead of coming back six months from now and closing the building again to do more construction work related to age, we decided to do it all now,” said O’Reilly.
After a $1,000 deductible, the city’s insurance policy paid for all replacement and renovation costs associated with the fire, said O’Reilly. A final tally has yet to be made but the cost estimate is between $100,000 and $130,000.
“Luckily, we had insurance,” he said.
The city will pay for the building’s upkeep regarding the ramp, windows and porch supports, said O’Reilly.
“The contents of the museum are back but they’re not all archived, yet,” said Cathy Salustri, president of the board of directors of the GHS. “Everything had to be removed and treated for smoke damage. Where appropriate, items that had any soot on them had to be treated for damage. This was all done by a professional restorer.”
Except for fixtures, items like historical tax rolls from the 20s and 30s along with every photograph and cassette tape had to be treated for smoke damage, she said.
Renovations on the inside of the building such as drywall work are done and the smell of smoke is gone, said Salustri.
“We can now feel confident that we can start putting the exhibits back together and getting things back in order so that when somebody wants to research their home, everything isn’t just in piles,” she said, “which is how it looks now.”
The society is hosting a spring cleaning and volunteer training event on Saturday, April 6 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to get the museum ready to reopen. For more information visit gulfporthistoricalsociety.org.