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Mound House plans feature October opening

April 15, 2014
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The oldest structure on Estero Island may be open for business once the fall weather arrives later this year.

Officials representing Mound House, the Town-owned property at the end of Connecticut Street that sits atop an ancient Calusa Indian Mound, are eying an October 2014 opening. Festivities in the planning stages for a soft opening may take place Oct. 4, while a grand opening may wait until January 2015.

During a special meeting of the Cultural and Environmental Learning Center Advisory Board, there was discussion about the official opening dates as well as consensus direction for contractors to prepare the front door as the original design. The meeting was held at Newton Park Friday and included interim Town Manager Don Stilwell, Mayor Anita Cereceda, Parks & Recreation Director Randy Norton, Cultural Resources Manager Regan Doherty, Mound House volunteers and Friends of the Mound House members.

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The Tudor section of Mound House as well as the main portion of the building is under restoration.

"I will move that CELCAB direct the contractors to follow the original designs incorporated by CELCAB in reference to the front door," said CELCAB member Lorrie Wolf, prior to the unanimous approval.

A second design plan had actually designated the Tudor side door as the primary visitor entrance. But structural issues were noted to be a deterrent. The side entrance is above the underground museum, and heavy traffic there may not be deemed safe. Both doors may be made available for ingress and egress once engineering officials examine concerns about structural capacity of that side door pathway.

"To me, one of worst things you can do to the historical integrity of the building is to adjust the main entrance from the front door to a side door around back," said Bill Grace, CELCAB's historical advisor.

A prior motion provided an option to change the main entrance once the building is officially open to the public.

"The motion stipulates Anita's recommendation that we have the front entrance as the main entrance, but there is the option to change that once traffic flow has been well established after the building has been open to the public," said CELCAB chair Barbara Anderson Hill.

CELCAB vice chair Ceel Spuhler stated the Mound House is now becoming "a museum of unique distinction." She stated ticket sales are a very important part of the process and should not be sold in the Mound House front room.

Where the ticket booth should be located was another discussion.

"I see no reason why we couldn't sell tickets out of the office instead of in the house itself," said Wolf.

The current plan for the interior makeup of Mound House includes a period room with historical furniture just inside the front door on the first floor. Former Mayor Dan Hughes has pledged to fully fund all costs associated with providing historical furnishings and other items required to recreate the Mound House period room. In the next room to the right is an orientation theater/multi-purpose room. To the rear of the period room is the 1906 Tudor Room that would hold the gift shop.

The second floor features a Calusa room, a contemporary history room and a nonfunctional bathroom that would include a electronic photo album and, eventually, serve as a research room. The wrap-around outdoor porch will focus the attention on a story of the estuary.

Some CELCAB members did not like the concept of having a main visitor entrance into the gift shop.

"Aesthetically, I don't care for the entrance in the gift shop," said Cherie Smith. "I think it would be too crowded."

Betty Simpson would like visitors to exit out of the gift shop. Either way, visitor circulation would be important.

"That way they have had an opportunity to visit the home and then take home a treasure," she said.

Admissions desk operations was also a main discussion. Mound House volunteers believe they have a right to take in money for tickets, while Town officials believe an additional staff member that would require a $11,200 salary would be the right way to go.

The grounds have been open for public use and, along with the "Stories Beneath Our Feet" underground exhibit, tours have been given on a donation basis. Fees for museum visitation may be set and included in the Town budget.

The exhibit, which features a 44-foot-long custom-made wall mural, was funded in parts by grants by the State, County, Town and Friends of the Mound House group

The interior restoration of the Williams H. Case House to its 1921 grandeur would help open the complete Town-owned property for tourism. Construction for a planned observation deck -one that would overlook the bay and replace the small wooden dock- is expected to go out to bid soon.

In its latest action concerning Mound House, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council unanimously approved the contract change with SEARCH Inc. for the design and phase 2 fabrication of the museum exhibits. The next project's guaranteed maximum price was reported to be $150,000 for phase 2 and $105,000 for phase 3 installation. The museum action plan has been completed, and phase 1 design is underway.

Back in October 2013, Council authorized a construction manager at risk agreement between the Town and Fowler Construction to set a guaranteed maximum price for the Mound House Restoration Phase II project. That price has been set at $748,332 with two alternatives for a fire suppression system ($10,839) and window protection ($9,333) included.

A grant for $445,000 will help in that part of Mound House completion. Approximately $1 million was said to be needed to complete the project. The restoration project will not include exterior lighting at this time.

Town officials have already committed $178,000 (museum action plan) in non-construction dollars from the $445,000 grant, leaving at least $267,000 to be applied toward restoration of the house. Reserves will help fund the entire project.

Mound House was acquired with funds from Florida Communities Trust in 2000.



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