Oren Dunn looks to expand

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Nearly three decades after the Oren Dunn City Museum opened its doors in Ballard Park, it stands poised for a major expansion.
Last week, the museum’s advisory board recommended constructing a new, two-story building adjacent to its current facility that would house the collection, plus the old Dudie’s Diner car. It also wants to develop an outdoor plaza featuring a Tupelo timeline.
The plan more than triples the museum’s space; Oren Dunn would continue to use the existing facility for classrooms and educational purposes, as well as continuing to house the veterans collection.
It’s a departure from the museum’s 2006 plan to relocate into the former Carnation Milk Plant in downtown’s Mill Village. Officials say it will be less expensive to remain at Ballard Park.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr. and City Council members generally support the new plan, but its cost won’t be known until late this year or early next year.
In the meantime, the Tupelo Historic Preservation Commission might take up the old Carnation plant as its next project after completing renovations to the historic Spain House.

1984: The Tupelo City Museum opens in the old Reed’s Milk Barn in Ballard Park. Oren Dunn, the man who started the museum, is its curator. The collection grows over the years, adding the Rittenhouse Space Museum, an old log cabin, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad caboose and the former Dudie’s Diner. The space museum later is replaced with the Veterans Museum.
1996: Oren Dunn dies of a heart attack; the museum is named after him.
Dec. 4, 2006: Lacking space for its growing collection, the Oren Dunn City Museum Advisory Board votes to relocate to the old Carnation Milk Plant in downtown’s Mill Village. Other choices had been to stay at Ballard Park, build a new facility at Veterans Park or renovate and move into the old Page Grocery store.
Dec. 19, 2006: The City Council votes to accept the 36,330-square-foot plant from Realtor Tommy Morgan, who owns the property. In the meantime, JBHM Architects develops a plan calling for massive renovations to the building, as well as a new addition to handle larger exhibits.
Feb. 6, 2007: Council members enter into a formal acquisition agreement with Morgan for the site.
Nov. 18, 2008: The council nominates the plant for placement on the National Register of Historic Places, in an effort to get tax credits for its renovations.
Aug. 20, 2009: The plant is accepted to the National Register of Historic Places, but plans for the renovation and relocation sit on a shelf.
April 2012: The museum board begins new discussions about its future and asks JBHM to do a conceptual drawing of an on-site expansion.
May 15, 2012: A new master plan is presented by JBHM to the museum board. It calls for a new 12,500-square-foot building to house the collection while still keeping the current 5,000-square-foot facility for classrooms. It also would continue housing the Veterans Museum and War Memorial.
Oct. 23, 2012: The museum board recommends to the council that the museum stay at Ballard Park and abandon previous plans for the plant.
January, 2013: Museum officials hope to have a cost estimate on the new project and will ask the city to pay for it from its capital fund.

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