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Kootenai County history must move

by BILL BULEY
Staff Writer | May 18, 2024 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The Museum of North Idaho can’t stay in its current home because of mold.

It can’t move into its new one under renovation at McEuen Park due to construction delays.

So, it found a temporary one in downtown Coeur d’Alene. But it’s going to need a little help from its friends before it can move in.

“We have a lot of work to do in a short time,” said Britt Thurman, MNI executive director.

The museum has for more than four decades operated in an aging, 4,400-square-foot city-owned building at 115 Northwest Blvd. 

The roof tended to leak a little but the problem got much worse this winter. The excess moisture led the city to test for mold about eight weeks ago, and results came back positive.

“Thresholds were high,” said Bill Greenwood, city parks director.

He said officials were concerned that as the weather warmed up this summer, the mold would get worse. A new roof was considered too costly for a building soon to be vacated.

So, the city told Thurman the museum couldn’t open due to possible health risks.

“We didn’t think it would be a problem because they were supposed to move into their new digs,” Greenwood said Friday.

The museum’s plan was to open this spring in the J.C. White House that was relocated in 2019 from Eighth Street and Sherman Avenue to the base of Tubbs Hill.

Plans call for an expanded 11,500-square-foot facility to house exhibits, art and educational resources and will include climate-controlled spaces.

But renovations have hit problems and the opening was pushed back to fall, maybe October.

That left Thurman in a quandary.

“Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation to have to move into a temporary place and then move again,” she said.

John Montandon provided a solution.

The lifelong Coeur d’Alene man agreed to rent the old Roxy Theater space, currently vacant, on Fourth Street between Sherman Avenue and Front Avenue to the museum.

The building has been in his family since the late 1950s.

Montandon recalled that after his dad, Richard Montandon, bought it, he and others pulled up the sloping floor and spent months digging out a basement that remains to this day.

“It took us all summer,” Montandon said, laughing.

He was glad to help the museum when they approached him about renting the space.

“I gave them a steal of a deal,” he said.

Montandon said he didn’t want to see the museum closed for months.

“Once you close down it will just about kill you,” he said. "You have to keep the wheels rolling.”

Thurman was pleased and appreciated Montandon’s generosity.

With 5,700 square feet on the main floor, it will provide enough space to arrange many museum displays and is a great location, about the midway point between the museum’s old and future home.

“It’s a phenomenal deal for us,” she said. 

Thurman said it will take about a week of cleaning and painting to get it ready. Then, they’ll move some exhibits there and hope to open in June so they don’t miss the busy summer season.

Thurman said she considers the museum’s situation “a fun challenge.

“Our little summer adventure,” she said.

The museum has put out calls for volunteers and asks that anyone who wants to pitch in call Jordan Thomas, volunteer coordinator, 208-664-3448, ext. 1.

As a tribute of sorts, Thurman said they plan to have an exhibit about the Roxy Theater, which was built by businessman Oscar Paisley in the early 1940s. 

“It gives us a cool opportunity to talk about history in history," she said.