Construction on the stalled National Museum of Industrial History in South Side Bethlehem could finally start again.
The organization submitted an application to the city for a building permit and its construction manager, Alvin H. Butz Inc. of Allentown will begin seeking bids for the third phase of construction, which encompasses the museum’s concrete slab and underground utilities.
“We are going out for bids this week, that process will take at least a month,” said Charles Marcon, museum board chairman and president, this morning. “I’m hoping by the middle of November, there will be activity at the site.”
The museum plans to display industrial era artifacts from the city.
Last October at Bethlehem Steel’s former research lab at Lehigh University’s Mountaintop Campus in Bethlehem, trucks loaded large steel testing and manufacturing equipment from one of the buildings and transported the pieces to the museum.
At the time, a new construction phase appeared imminent. Steve Donches, then CEO and president of the museum, said the building was under construction, with the exterior restored and the museum ready to bring the exhibits in.
Now, once this stage is complete, the museum, which owns the property, will move on to interior construction of the building and exhibit installation in preparation for opening its doors to the public in early 2016, Marcon said.
Earlier this year, a Northampton County grand jury report called for the Pennsylvania state attorney general to investigate the museum board’s handling of the finances for the museum project.
“We still have the specter of the investigation over our heads,” Marcon said.
Marcon said the board is still awaiting the verdict from the attorney general.
“It’s been two and a half years that we’ve been in limbo,” Marcon said. “We’ve been kind of heading down this road for some time now.”
Every museum depends on donations to keep the doors open, he added.
However, an anonymous $3 million donation that the museum received in June is spurring the start of construction, Marcon said.
At this point, the museum wants to start the construction of the museum’s concrete slab and underground utilities but will wait until the attorney general’s verdict is received before moving forward with more construction, Marcon said.
This way, if the attorney general decides to shut the museum down, the organization can still sell the building, Marcon said.
“Anything that we can do to enhance the quality of life in the Lehigh Valley is worthy of pursuit,” Marcon said. “There is an enormous amount of interest, not only locally, but nationally. This is an enhancement of the whole Bethworks site.”
Architectural plans for the two-story museum are complete and have been supplied as part of the permit application process.
David Scott Parker Architects LLC, of Southport, Conn., working with area engineering firms, developed the design and construction documents.
Parker has worked on several projects in Historic Bethlehem, including the Burnside Plantation, Moravian Smithy and Moravian Bell House, according to a news release.
Previous construction phases included a new roof and exterior restoration, and the installation of more than 200 windows.
The combined value of those two phases was about $2.5 million.
The fourth phase of construction will complete interior construction of the building, and the fifth and final phase will include installation of exhibits and the entrance plaza.
Marcon said the total construction project is valued at $6 million.
“We still have an ambitious vision,” Marcon said. “It’s more than a Bethlehem Steel museum, our goal is to be national.”
For the first part of the project, the exhibits will highlight textiles, steel and energy, but the museum would like to eventually add other industries, Marcon said.
The museum is located on East Second Street as part of the BethWorks project.