York County Heritage Trust buys Met-Ed steam plant

Julia Scheib

In about five years, the old Met-Ed steam heat generating plant will be a hub for local history in York County.

The York County Heritage Trust bought the plant, which is at the corner of North Pershing Avenue and West Philadelphia Street, Tuesday afternoon, said the organization's president and CEO, Joan Mummert.

The trust bought the building as a way to centralize and consolidate what it has to offer, she said.

For the organization: The Heritage Trust, which is the result of the mergers of several different organizations, owns 10 buildings and has about 60,000 square feet of exhibit space in the county. That's on par with what much bigger cities like Pittsburgh or Philadelphia might have, Mummert said. The trust needed to "right-size," get rid of real estate it could not afford to keep up in the long term.

The functions of the trust's two largest buildings — the Agricultural and Industrial Museum, 217 W. Princess St., and the Historical Society Museum, 250 E. Market St. — will be moved to the steam plant, Mummert said. By cutting those two buildings loose, the organization will save around $12 million in deferred maintenance, she said.

Kylie Reams, 5, of York City, dances under bubbles she made. Family Day 2014 at the Agricultural & Industrial Museum attracted more than 400 people to the museum Saturday, showing how closely history relates to science, technology, engineering, math and the arts. The day featured hands-on learning stations, science experiments, demonstrations and musicians. The event was sponsored by the York County Heritage Trust Auxiliary. Bil Bowden photos

The Met-Ed plant cost $1.75 million, and renovations are projected to cost around $12 million, Mummert said.

Between the steam plant, which will house the organization's library, archives and collections, and the Colonial Complex down the block, the trust will have a downtown campus. And because staff won't be as spread out, the organization will be able to concentrate more on programming, she said.

The new facility will also serve as a central hub from which people can be directed to historical sites and museums in smaller communities around the county.

And in the long run, Mummert hopes, the new facility could help the trust to attain national accreditation, which would allow it to borrow money from similar institutions and perhaps become an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institute.

For the city: "We wanted to do something terrific for York," Mummert said.

She hopes that a more cohesive historical presence will give Yorkers a bigger sense of pride in their heritage and said that after the big move the trust will be able to become more involved in the community, increasing its number of partnerships with other organizations.

Melanie Hady, the trust's marketing director, agreed.

"We see it as not only a great improvement to the visitor experience and to our financial stability but as a huge boost to downtown economic development," she said.

Expecting visitors to walk or drive all over the city to the various facilities just wasn't practical, she said. Having the Colonial Complex within walking distance of the new museum and library will be much more convenient for people.

And hopefully, museum traffic will overflow into the shops and restaurants in downtown York, she said.

— Reach Julia Scheib at jscheib@yorkdispatch.com.