State Archives will relocate to $24M facility by 2020

Officials met to discuss relocating Pennsylvania's state archives to Midtown Harrisburg.

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – The Pennsylvania State Archives will have a new home by the year 2020. A new building is slated for construction in Midtown.

The Vartan Group Inc. bought the property at North Sixth and Hamilton streets with expectations to build office space for the proposed new federal courthouse a block away.

Despite a $30 million dollar investment to the federal courthouse project, a timeline of completion is still unknown, but by the time a judge tries one case there, people will be able to glance at Pennsylvania’s most cherished documents.

“I envision a beautiful building that is very, very welcoming,” State Archivist David Carmichael said.

State and city officials and Vartan Group brass met with ABC27’s Dave Marcheskie to discuss the $24 million building that will be nestled next to the courthouse.

Julien Gaudion, Deputy Secretary of Site Acquisitions with the Department of General Services, held out a map of the state’s newly acquired property from The Vartan Group.

“This is running Sixth Street here to Seventh Street here in Midtown Harrisburg,” he said.

DGS plans to purchase bonds to fund the project. The state also purchased homes and vacant properties that stretch from North Sixth and Hamilton to North Seventh and Harris streets.

In 2013, ABC27’s Dennis Owens toured the current State Archives building, which houses the Pennsylvania Charter, Milton S. Hershey’s death certificate, and even a lock of Thomas Jefferson’s hair. Carmichael says the 20-story stack of crumbling concrete is outdated and running out of room to hold the expanding collection of 250 million historical documents.

“We have everything from parchment to pixels, I guess you could say with digital records,” Carmichael said.

DGS officials said prior administrations looked outside Harrisburg’s city limits to construct the new facility but found the Midtown location fit all of its needs, including being outside the 100-year flood plan.

For Ralph Vartan, keeping a state institution inside Harrisburg only bodes well for the neighborhood.

“Once in every how many decades does a building like this get designed and built?” he said. “I think it’s important this project is able to stay here in the city.”

Mayor Eric Papenfuse, whose father was a Maryland state archivist, has a certain passion for historical artifacts. He is ecstatic the state not only chose to remain in Harrisburg but also agreed to save the city thousands of dollars by housing Harrisburg City archives as well.

The new facility promises to boast a library where people can look at state and city archives and research personal histories.

“You’re going to have records now that connect to this community in Harrisburg,” Papenfuse said. “People can come and do their family history, find out more about birth records, and death records, and when houses were built, and look at old atlases.”

Even though the new building would eliminate roughly $2,000 in tax revenue for Harrisburg, Papenfuse said the city wins with saving upward of $300,000 to properly store its own archives.

The mayor also believes the state project will be a shot in the arm for the surrounding community by ensuring safety with Capital Police patrolling the area, encouraging private business, and erasing blight along the Sixth Street corridor.

Calob Jackson, a city resident, believes the relocation of the State Archives to a more neighborhood-centric location could only benefit the area.

“It’s going to add a lot to the Uptown community,” Jackson said. “I see it growing, I see it coming back.”

DGS said 2016-2017 will be planning and design years with groundbreaking expected sometime in 2018. The project is slated to take two years to construct and should be open sometime in 2020.

The state said its transition of millions of documents would take quite some time as well. Currently, there are no plans for repurposing the current State Archives building.

“It’ll be a great project that’ll really benefit the city,” Papenfuse said.

A public meeting will take place Wednesday, May 4 at 5 p.m. at Fire Station No. 1 on North Sixth Street.

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