EL DORADO — For years, the historical museum in Kansas’ biggest county geographically has been too small for the job.
But soon a major expansion and renovation will help the Kansas Oil Museum better tell the story of Butler County and the industry that first put it on the map, while also transforming it into an education center and community venue.
The centerpiece of the project is the 12,500-square-feet Energy Education Center, which is under construction south of the museum. Featuring a kitchen, stage and audio-visual system, the center will hold 250 for a banquet setting or 400 for lecture seating.
When completed, it will free up exhibit space in the museum that had been used for meetings and events.
“We continuously are having to clear that out and make room so we can have speakers,” executive director Tiya Tonn said. “There are a lot of incredible things we have back in our collections (storage area). There are so many hidden local treasures that are just hidden because it’s been over two decades since something like this has been done.”
The museum’s board room will be turned into a space for traveling exhibits, Tonn added.
The expansion had been under discussion for years. Board members voted to proceed last November, with the new center projected to open this fall. Funds are still being raised and anybody interested in contributing may contact the museum. The total cost is expected to top $2 million.
The museum grounds, which also hold vintage drilling equipment and a re-creation of an oil field boom town, have always been a popular destination for school field trips. At one time, the county’s oil fields were producing nearly 9 percent of the world’s oil. The new education center will lend itself to the teaching of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) material. Tonn said a “variety of energy sources and learning opportunities will be a primary focus, allowing students to explore the future of energy in Kansas in our world.”
It will be open to training for adults as well.
The museum has also been offering more entertainment programming, Tonn said, and the center will give it an indoor space to utilize.
“On dates we don’t use it, we can offer it to community to rent to defray the expense of the building and create an income stream,” she said.
Loren Jack, former president of the museum board, estimated the expanded museum will attract 15,000 visitors a year.
Tonn said it’s fitting that a covered porch surrounding the new education center will offer a view of the museum boom town.
“The future of learning literally looks out into the past.”
Kansas Oil Museum
383 E. Central Ave., El Dorado
Open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
(316) 321-9333, kansasoilmuseum.org. For regular updates on the expansion, visit the museum facebook page: Butler County Historical Society Home of the Kansas Oil Museum.