More collections and virtual reality in planned new Doncaster museum

The planned Doncaster museum, library and archives building
The planned Doncaster museum, library and archives building

New collections and high technology displays could be on the way under a £15 million plan for Doncaster's museum, art gallery and library

Under the proposals which go before Doncaster Council's cabinet next week. a new £15 million building will be built around what is left of the former Doncaster Grammar School for Girls on Waterdale to serve the functions previously provided by four buildings.

The current museum building on Chequer Road would be kept on as a store facility for items of cultural significance that are not currently on show. The current library, at Waterdale, and the archives, in King Edward Road, Balby, and the schools library services building, at Top Road, Barnby Dun, would be sold off.

The new building would be a four story building which officials believe would allow more items to be exhibited, and would also allow Doncaster to host travelling exhibitions from other venues for the first time.

Officials say the new building will also mean people will be able to see iconic documents that have now been previously on display such as Doncaster's historic 800 year old charter.

And it will use state-of-the-art computer technology to create virtual reality tours of history. Suggested uses include using the technology to allow people to travel on the footplate of the Doncaster-built Mallard steam locomotive or to walk round a Roman settlement from the town's past.

The proposals could also see the borough find a permanent home for a major collection of railway memorabilia which is currently not on public display. Talks are ongoing to try to locate the collection in the new building.

As well as library books, there would also be download facilities for e-books, and there would be digital support available for new businesses. Doncaster Chamber is working with the council on what support should be provided.

Some of the buildings that will be replaced are older buildings, with some of them in need of significant repair.

Mayor Ros Jones said the new building would become a site where residents could go to explore their own heritage.

She said: "The existing buildings will require a lot of money spending on them, and still will not be of the quality that we need for learning and the arts.

"It is great to see the girls high school building will be used for learning again.

"This is building something for the people of Doncastrer and giving them their heritage.

"It is part of the town centre masterplan that was drawn up last year that we are now delivering. This is what people expect when they are visiting a place that is offering the best. We will be giving our people something they can own, see, and say 'wow'.

"This incorporates the old and the new - we are protecting out heritage and also giving more."

If the project is approved, the construction work is planned to start in July 2018, with construction completed by January 2020, and the building opening in the spring of that year.

Head of libraries and culture at Doncaster Council, Nick Stopforth, said the new building would allow the town to bring in exhibitions from other collections for the first time, with potential exhibits from London museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum and the Tate Gallery. He said it could mean that residents in the borough could see such items for the first time without having to travel.

He said he expected there would be three entrances, including the former girls school on Waterdale. The former girls school would be inside a glass outer wall, and its two domes would be made of glass to allow more light into the building.

His expects that when visitors walk inside, they would enter a main atrium, potentially with 'great art' from national collections, along with some of the library elements. and computer access to the public.

Moving up to the first floor, there would museum space on the first floor, but also art. He said: "If you go to the library, you will see museum artifacts around you. We want to generate pride in our rich heritage."

He expected floor two to combine museum exhibits with a creative industries space, where the focus would be on engineering skills for the futures.

Floor three would then contain a high quality art gallery.

He raised examples of Harry Potter exhibitions and Japanese art as national exhibitions of the sort Doncaster may be able to house, but said borough bosses would be informed by what the public told them they would like to see come to the town.

He added it was likely that with the storage capacity of the Chequer Road building, there would be more chances to rotate what was on exhibition at the museum, rather than have the same items on show all the time, potentially meaning more reasons for people to make repeat visits.

Mr Stopforth said the museum was working with a number of heritage groups, including the trustees of the Hall Cross Memoribilia Collection, the owners of a major railway collection.

He said: "As a result of that, for the first time, we could bring those railway related artefacts into the public realm, so on display, great quality exhibits and great quality displays. We're also working with a group called the PT Locomotive Trust, to see if we can bring a working locomotive into the building, so how amazing would that be, that you could see the inside of a locomotive? For our children and young people to be inspired by that, and then get into the use of some digital kit to help them understand what it was like to drive, for example, the Mallard or Flying Scotsman, and then go on to be inspired so that they go an study in our great high speed rail college."

The PT Locomotive Trust is currently working to build a loco.

Nigel Ball, Doncaster Council's cabinet member for public health, leisure and culture, said the plans were looking to effectively make the former girls' school the first exhibit people see in the building.

He said: "It's going to be preserved for posterity, so that is going to be part of our local heritage which is going to be there. It's going to be encased in glass and what we're hoping to do is say, yes, this is your Doncaster, you've got access to it. This is iconic."

"From my perspective and the mayor's perspective, this is about using libraries as tools of empowerment. We want people from across the borough to come and use it and to be inspired."

Mayor Mrs Jones said the council predicts 40 per cent more visitors under the new building.

The project will cost £14 million to £15million. There will be £10 million added to the council's capital programme and the balance will be paid from borrowing which the authority expects will be repaid by savings made from running modern services from one efficient building. Applications will also be made to funding agencies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Arts Council.