Inland Northwest Rail Museum, a nonprofit organization that formerly operated under the name Inland Empire Railway Historical Society, is getting ready to open to the public the $1.9 million first phase of a new museum by that name near Reardan, about 20 miles west of Spokane.
Through the construction of additional envisioned phases, it hopes to create a $24.5 million destination tourist attraction there that will help promote and preserve the history of railroading while also providing an economic benefit to the surrounding rural area.
“We’re excited, but it’s a little overwhelming,” says Dale Swant, the organization’s president, referring to the myriad of details involved in developing, furnishing, and opening a museum, particularly one featuring such large exhibit pieces.
The 12,000-square-foot, first-phase building, which is to be named the Lee Tillotson Conservation and Restoration Center, is expected to be completed by the end of this month. The installation of track for a nearby two-foot gauge, quarter-mile-long railroad loop ride for children is only about half completed, but Swant says the first-phase of the project is on track for a ribbon cutting and grand opening that will be held Aug. 27 from 1 to 5 p.m., Swant says.
The museum is being developed at 27300 Sprinkle Road, two miles west of Reardan, on part of a 30-acre site the organization owns there, near the westernmost intersection of U.S. 2 and state Route 231. The organization hired Bouten Construction, of Spokane, to construct the first-phase building. MMEC Architecture & Interiors, of Spokane, is the architect for the overall project.
The organization will be moving to the new museum from the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center, at 404 N. Havana, in Spokane Valley, where it has been operating for decades. It has been looking to relocate since 2002, when fairgrounds officials asked it to find a new home.
“We’re working laying tracks to house the rail cars we’re moving from Spokane. Sometime in June, we’ll be moving those cars out there,” Swant says. “We have seven cars there currently, and will be moving about 20 more out there.”
He adds, “Those (rail cars) will all moved by rail. We actually have to go on three railroads to get stuff out there,” requiring cooperation and assistance from Union Pacific, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad Co.
Also slated to be moved there from Spokane is what Swant claims is the only remaining streetcar of the hundreds that once provided transportation to Spokane residents, but it will be delivered to the museum by truck, he says.
The first-phase building is named after Lee Tillotson, an original and lifetime member of the 49-year-old, 250-member organization who died in 2010 and left the organization a substantial sum, enough to cover a large majority of the first-phase construction costs.
The initial building will be used ultimately for restoring rail cars and includes a second-floor overlook where visitors can watch and learn about the restoration process. Initially, though, until later phases can be constructed, it also will accommodate other museum functions. An adjoining structure that’s to be built later as part of the project’s first phase will house a streetcar gallery.
As envisioned, that first-phase complex will connect via a skywalk to the rest of the museum complex, which is to feature a partial hub-and-spoke design, with an already installed massive turntable at the hub. The turntable will be a central museum feature and will enable cars to be placed and rotated through the museum’s main-level galleries.
The rest of the complex is expected to include a reception gallery, auditorium, locomotive gallery, separate car gallery, gift shop, and switchyard and signal display. It also will include the previously mentioned children’s train trip, which will be similar to—but much longer—than one that the organization operated for many years at the Fair & Expo Center during the Spokane County Interstate Fair.
By the time this year’s fair is held, Sept. 9-18, the organization will have vacated the space it has been occupying for years on the south side of the Spokane County fairgrounds, which includes a several-thousand-square-foot shop building.
A construction schedule hasn’t been set yet for additional construction phases because the organization faces a big challenge to raise the additional funds needed to complete the project.
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