Designs envision first-rate, modern museum in York City

Jason Addy
York Dispatch

The York County History Center’s plan to transform the way people interact with the area’s past is beginning to take shape.

History center officials, designers and developers met July 24 at the Capitol Theatre to share their progress and unveil preliminary design plans for the revamp.

This rendering by Warehaus shows a bird's eye view of the new York County History Center, which officials hope to open in early 2020. The new history center will repurpose the former Met-Ed steam plant and an adjacent building at the corner of North Pershing Avenue and West Philadelphia Street.

The history center is in the midst of a multi-year consolidation project to create a single historical campus in downtown York City, “right-sizing” from 10 buildings scattered across the city to one single location along Codorus Creek.

More:History Center raising millions for downtown campus

The history center purchased the former Met-Ed building on North Pershing Avenue in December 2015 with plans to convert the old steam plant into the historical hub of York County, 

At the Capitol Theatre, project partners gave the public its first glimpse of what that hub will look like.

Center specs: The property will be converted into a 50,000-square-foot modern museum by connecting the steam plant to an adjacent building via a two-story lobby made mostly of glass, said Robert Kinsley, CEO of project designers Warehaus, formerly LSC Design.

Escape Games Live currently operates out of the adjacent building at 147 W. Philadelphia St.

According to the preliminary plans, the new history center will include a 15,000-square-foot main exhibit gallery, a 2,000-square-foot gallery for changing exhibits and a lobby that provides 3,000 to 4,000 square feet for event space, Kinsley said.

More:York County History Center scoops up $19K grant

The main exhibit gallery will take up most of the first floor of the steam plant, but portions of the gallery extend two stories high. The back half of the building will be used for office space and the center’s new library and archives, according to the designs.

Behind the changing exhibit in the adjacent building will be space for a store or cafe.

The second floor of the new center will be used to house the library and archives, administrative offices and more exhibit space, the designs show.

Kinsley and other officials seemed especially excited about the opportunities the center’s third floor will present.

A rooftop deck will be constructed above the lobby and adjacent building, providing additional event space and scenic views of downtown York City and Codorus Creek, Kinsley said.

The third-floor space where giant bins once held coal for the power plant will be converted into a community gallery, with several thousand square feet of space for special collections, Kinsley said.

Kinsley cautioned that he and his team are only a quarter of the way through the design phase and are still taking design suggestions.

‘Springboard for the future’: Dan Murphy, principal at Washington, D.C.-based museum designers The PRD Group, said officials are working diligently to create a history center “that’s right for York” and one that builds community and understanding through its exhibits.

For decades, museums have been used as centers for storing historical artifacts, and museum visitors have been reduced to the role of "witnesses," Murphy said.

By building the right history center in downtown York City that engages visitors in a different way, officials also can help to grow the economy and “inspire the future,” Murphy said.

“This history center is not about a nostalgia for the past,” Murphy said about what attracted him to the project. “It’s about making our history useful in the present and as a springboard for the future.”