Courtesy photos An architectural rendering shows the anticipated exterior renovations to Oberlin Underground Railroad Center.
Nearly $1.1 million must still be raised to finish construction of the Oberlin Underground Railroad Center on South Main Street.
Steering committee member Shara Davis told city council last Monday that her group has visited more than a dozen historical centers in the area for inspiration in its efforts to draft a business plan for the Oberlin museum.
“Education is critical to the mission of these Underground Railroad centers we looked at,” she said. They all had a strong emphasis on educating younger students and bringing in school districts, classrooms, and children’s groups.
Davis said those centers allow companies to rent space or reach out to companies to be sponsors. Each is open to the public on a limited basis, operating just a couple of hours each week, during special events, or for scheduled visits.
Most of the facilities the committee visited were small with limited space and had a small multimedia exhibit wall that showcased local people, a small library, a show and tell box, a gift shop, and a meeting space.
Davis said many of the centers rented their grounds surrounding the building for events or weddings.
“A lot of them were doing reenactments on the grounds,” she said.
The 126-year-old Gasholder Building used to hold coal gas to provide heat and light to the city.
It was saved from demolition in the 1980s, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998, and in 2004 the building and land were donated to the city by A.H. (Kenny) Clark.
City officials created a strategic plan with residents for the building in 2009 to become a tourist facility and transportation hub.
The center is expected to be completed in three phases, which include repairs to the exterior and interior of the building and improving the land around it.
The exterior work was finished by 2013 but phase two remains underway. It includes lighting, parking, sidewalks, restrooms, and a picnic area.
However, city officials still need $108,885 to finish this portion of the project and $1 million to complete phase three.
The OURC committee has been talking for the past year about who would run the facility here. Davis said most of the centers the group visited were owned and operated by a historic preservation group.
The typical annual budgets for those types of centers were approximately $25,000 and their primary source of funding was donations, memberships, fees, and fundraisers.
Local organizations have stepped up and expressed interest in helping develop and oversee small exhibits inside, artifacts, bus tours, and a small library.
Still, no one has stepped up to take the reins to partner with city officials and run the facility.
The committee is expected to reach out to more than 10 local agencies to find someone to be an operating partner.
Valerie Urbanik can be reached at 440-775-1611 or on Twitter @ValUrbanik.