WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - The visitor’s center and museum at Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson State Historic Site will re-open to the public Saturday after being closed for more than eight months due to Hurricane Florence damage.
The grounds of Fort Anderson reopened in December, but the site has seen far fewer visitors because the museum has remained closed.
“We will probably never know the full impact Florence has had on us between lost visitation, and lost revenues. We’re a free site and that’s one thing we strive to be is remain free,” said site manager Jim McKee.
Unlike many homes and buildings destroyed by Florence, the visitor’s center and museum did not have any water damage. Instead, water saturated the floors and being without electricity for nine days created extremely humid, moist conditions in the building. These conditions allowed mold to grow everywhere.
“Being a concrete slab building and well over a hundred inches of rain last year and over three feet of rain from Florence the moisture came up through the floor," McKee said. "There was carpeting in the building, we had old acoustic tile ceiling panels that just absorbed whatever moisture. The carpet absorbed whatever moisture from the ground water. The tiles all the humidity.“
McKee described the building condition as a terrarium. The only things not covered in mold were the artifacts, because they were preserved by their glass casings.
“We were limited to 20 minutes with a respirator and 10-15 minutes with just a mask. And even then when you came out you had mold all over you,” McKee said.
The building had to be closed, the ceiling taken out, and all the items professionally cleaned.
“Everything that you see on the walls, all the panels, the maps, all of that had to come down and be cleaned so we had to put all of that back up. Everything was wrapped up. It was scrubbed from floor to ceiling, it was quite a mess,” McKee said.
The mold remediation money came from the State Historic Site funds and from emergency money, but was limited. Most of the rebuilding has been done by site staff and partners.
While the ceilings still need to be replaced, and the auditorium and office space are still under construction, the lobby and museum will reopen Saturday at 9 a.m.
“The great thing is the staff and the interpreters will be readily available to the public and in the past few months we’ve been running around trying to get the grounds, trying to get the building, trying to get everything set up. This way we’ll be able to get volunteers back in the building to help with visitor services and we’ll be able to do more effective visitor services for the public,” Mckee said.
The site is hosting a William Bartram Day program Saturday, focusing on history and the environment in North Carolina. There will be demonstrations and kids activities.
After months of work, with plenty more left to do, McKee said he is just relieved to be able to serve the public once again.
“It is the satisfaction of knowing without a doubt that we are now going to be able to properly give back to the people," he said. "This whole thing the building, the grounds, the artifacts, everything belongs to the people of North Carolina so we’re able to finally re-open.”