Increased rains this spring contributed to the growth of an ongoing mold problem in the basement of the Ellis County Historical Society Museum, prompting the closure Thursday of two of its buildings and relocation of staff and archival material.

The gallery, located in a former brick church building, and the adjoining Stone Church at 100 W. Seventh are closed to the public because of the potential health effects from the mold, Lee Dobratz, director of the historical society, told The Hays Daily News on Wednesday.

The closure of the brick church is likely permanent, she said. The society has been working on plans for new facilities that would include a renovation of the Stone Church.

Several of the museum’s four employees who work in the basement, where archives and collections are housed, have had increasing health issues, Dobratz said.

“Every day when we leave, we’ve got sore throats and headaches, so after doing a bunch of investigation and talking to the professionals in the business, they said get the hell out of that building,” she said.

“Without doing some serious construction, there’s really no way we can stop the mold from coming in. We can’t. There’s no way to completely clean the space,” Dobratz said.

Dobratz said one employee has missed 45 percent of her scheduled days this year because of health problems. While the employee’s health issues likely have not been caused by the mold, the condition of the buildings is contributing, Dobratz said.

“We’re going to move her up to the new location first and we hope to have all her stuff up there Friday,” she said.

That new location will be 1111 E. 30th, a small dome-shaped building just north of Orscheln’s Farm and Home owned by the historical society’s board president, Brad Boyer.

The staff, photo collections and archive materials will be moved to the dome over the next few weeks. The materials will still be available to researchers, but without space to show exhibits, those will stay at the Seventh Street location.

Tours of the Volga German House and Ellis County Fire Museum will still be available by appointment.

The historical society has been moving toward construction of a new building because of the condition of the two structures on Seventh Street. In March, the board contracted with Nabholz Construction for a feasibility study to estimate construction costs.

Dobratz said she is now in the process of writing grant applications and investigating other sources of funding for the project.

There are also items in the museum’s collections that will require mold mitigation, she said, and that will take specialized care.

In most cases of mold, a standard anti fungal solution is used.

“We can’t necessarily use that one solution on everything we have because we have metal, we have leather, we have furniture, and it could destroy them or alter them,” she said.

“As much mold as there is in those two rooms in the sub-basement, we’re going to have to have a professional company come in to do that,” she said.

A silver lining in the move is that staff can focus on digitizing photos and archive materials, Dobratz said. Curatorial assistant Katie Annett will be able to dedicate her time to the archives, and the museum’s handyman will also be trained to help, she said.

Updated 2:15 p.m.


ECHS press release

Beginning Thursday, Ellis County Historical Society will relocate offices, photo collections, and archive materials to 1111 East 30th St (the little dome) in Hays.

The Board of Trustees decided to close the Gallery and Stone Church to the public due to negative health effects from increasing mold growth, according to a press release from the historical society.

The historical society will continue to provide materials for researchers at its new location, but will have no exhibits. The society said in its press release it will be able to focus more heavily on its digital initiative. This includes making photo collections available online through its website and scanning documents for easy access and preservation.

Appointments to tour the Volga German House and Fire Museum will be required.

The society is currently investigating alternative housing for the museum and collections in storage, including construction of a new museum building at its current 7th and Main location.

Please visit the webpage at, Facebook page, or call 785-628-2624 for further information.

Ellis County Historical Society, founded in 1972, collects, preserves, and exhibits items and documents that illustrate the history of Ellis County. It is located at 100 West 7th Street in Hays.