The Laramie Plains Museum recently broke ground on an expansion to the Alice Hardie Stevens Center with the aim of improving the revenue-generating potential of the building.
Plans call for adding about 6,400 square feet to the west side of the center, which sits just to the north of Ivinson Mansion between Sixth and Seventh streets. The center, which features a large central room, is used for wedding receptions, community events and theater productions.
“For a few years, we have had a dream of increasing the sustainability of the museum, and what we find is that our best income stream is rentals of the property,” said Mary Mountain, executive director of the Laramie Plains Museum.
The Ivinson grounds were the site of 25 weddings and receptions last summer. Many of them took place with the addition of a rented tent placed adjacent to the west side of the center to accommodate a larger crowd.
While the original building can hold about 100 people, the expanded facility will have room for more than 300, which will allow it be used year-round for weddings as well as other meetings and events, Mountain said.
“There can be weddings here all year round on this stunning property,” she said.
Jake Felton, president of the Laramie Plains Museum Board of Directors, said a building able to accommodate 300-350 people would be a benefit to the community. Plus, a facility with increased revenue-generating ability would allow the board to focus less on fundraising and more on its core mission of historic preservation.
“A lot can be held there to create that lasting stream of income that we need to have,” he said.
The expansion will feature a new stage on the west end, with doors that will open to the Ivinson grounds to the south. The facility will have an open-beam ceiling and chandeliers, along with updated fire protection and accessibility in the original structure.
“It’s going to be phenomenal when we get it done,” board member Joyce Powell said.
A climate-controlled basement will provide additional storage for museum artifacts, potentially including delicate items such as leather and fur, which require a specialized environment.
“From the curatorial perspective, we’ve always been very limited in space, and we have issues with storage,” said museum curator Konnie Cronk.
The Ivinson Mansion was built in 1892 by Edward Ivinson, a leading businessman at the time. In 1921, he donated the mansion and grounds to the Episcopal Missionary District of Wyoming, which used it as a boarding school for girls.
Virginia Cottage was built in 1924 and used as a gymnasium, stage and dormitory. It was later renamed in honor of Alice Hardie Stevens, who founded the Laramie Plains Museum Association and led the effort to save the mansion from demolition in the early 1970s.
While the Ivinson mansion itself is on the National Register of Historic Places, the Alice Hardie Stevens Center can be renovated because of its role in supporting museum operations, Mountain said.
Sweckard Excavation is the contractor for the project, while Swift Structures created the architectural plans.
The mansion grounds have been rezoned and are now part of the downtown commercial district. Formerly, the block was zoned as multi-family residential.
Mountain estimated the project would cost around $700,000, depending on how construction proceeds. The museum has received support from local government entities and the community, including a large donation sufficient to get the project underway. She said fundraising will continue, and donations will be accepted to benefit the expansion.
The museum board is hoping to complete the expansion by early May, in time for a celebration of the 150th anniversary of the founding of Laramie City.
Board member Connie Palmer said she imagined Edward and Jane Ivinson would welcome such a change to the museum grounds.
“They would be so excited to host the first event in there,” Palmer said. “They would be pleased.”