Port Exploreum in Port Washington working to reopen after flooding

Water damaged museum basement


Port Exploreum, an interactive museum in downtown Port Washington, is working to reopen after it was damaged   during a storm in late August.

The Maritime Level of The Port Exploreum. (Photo: Port Washington Historical Society)

A downpour on Aug. 27 dropped about nine inches of rain on the city, causing nearly two feet of sewage water backup in the basement of the three-story museum at 118 N. Franklin St.

Museum staff are now preparing the Exploreum’s “Maritime Level,” which is designed to replicate the deck of a schooner and houses several interactive exhibits, for reconstruction after the flooding damaged a computer that powers an exhibit video, portions of the server room, the furnace and elevator.

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An estimate of the total damage is still being calculated, said Wayne Chrusciel, executive director of the Port Washington Historical Society. Once that figure is determined, the museum plans to launch a fundraising campaign. The museum will host its annual gala on Nov. 13, during which Chrusciel plans to make an appeal to donors.

“We are going to start the process on rebuilding here pretty shortly,” he said.

The Port Exploreum. (Photo: Port Washington Historical Society)

Port Exploreum, which is operated by the historical society, opened in April 2015, backed by a $1 million anonymous gift. The lead donor is a Port Washington native who, after living in New York City, wanted to see an interactive museum in his hometown that his daughter would enjoy. The historical society acquired a then-abandoned 105-year-old building in 2012 and began restoring it in 2013 to create the museum.

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The museum’s three stories include exhibits that focus on Lake Michigan and its role in Port Washington’s history. The Exploreum is outfitted with various tech-driven experiences, including augmented reality games and an electronic table that displays real-time information about the weather and commercial shipping.

“It’s a very small building but we crammed a lot in there,” Chrusciel said.

Chrusciel said he expects it will be at least two months before the basement reopens. The museum’s first and second floors will continue to host school groups in the meantime.

The Exploreum sees its heaviest traffic during the summer, with many visitors stopping by on their way to and from Door County, Chrusciel said.

“If (the flooding) were to happen at a decent time, it was now, because traffic slows down in September,” he said.

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