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Sugar may be gone, but the museum is expanding

Exhibits planned for machinery, Tournahauler, trains

Steve Wood of Irvine, Calif., inspects a Cleveland Model J36 Trencher on display on the grounds of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum in Puunene on Wednesday. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

An outdoor exhibit of sugar-harvesting equipment and a new building to house historic railroad cars are in the future for the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum, Director Roslyn Lightfoot said Tuesday.

With the stability of a long-term lease and the addition of 2.3 acres to the 1.8-acre museum property, Lightfoot believes “we’re in a window of opportunity” for expansion.

“It’s a chance for us to really stake out this place and turn it into something that the whole community will be extremely proud of, a place to not only bring their families but their visitors,” Lightfoot said.

The 1,800-square-foot museum, which opened in January 1987, had been operating on a month-to-month lease from Alexander & Baldwin. In July 2017, the museum signed a 30-year lease with A&B that expanded the museum property to around 4 acres.

Lightfoot said the museum wants to create an outdoor exhibit on the additional land to showcase the equipment that once planted and harvested sugar cane, including trench diggers, haulers, cane grabs, tractors and what may be the last Tournahauler on the island.

Alfonso and Joyce Navarrete (from left) take photos of their kids Aliya, 9, Jaden, 5, and Noah, 7, as they play in a banyan tree on the grounds of the Alexander & Baldwin Sugar Museum in Puunene on Wednesday. The tree was recently trimmed and surrounding area cleared of brush as the museum prepares to expand its offerings and display space. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A Maui resident bought the specially modified cane-hauling machine during Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.’s closing auction last year and now wants to donate it to the museum, Lightfoot said. The problem is figuring out how to get it there.

“Even though they’re called Tournahaulers, they don’t turn easily,” Lightfoot said. “The Tournahauler can’t make the turn down Puunene Avenue onto Hansen into our driveway. So we’re trying to figure out, do we take out hedges? Do we try to come another way?”

The museum also has plans to add two new buildings: a 5,700-square-foot space for additional exhibits and a smaller building for admissions and the gift shop, which will free up space in the current museum. Lightfoot said the larger building will house railroad memorabilia, including a working steam engine that once powered the Kahuku Mill on Oahu, as well as restrooms and a meeting room available to the public.

“We have a lot of things in our storage, in our collection, that will just really be incredible once people get to see everything,” she said.

The building also will house the Claus locomotive and Kalakaua coach car that are currently on loan to the Maui Tropical Plantation. The railroad was instrumental during the plantation days, transporting families around the island and carrying children to school and the fair.

“It was the major form of transportation on island,” Lightfoot said. “It really made sugar more profitable because you could get more to the mills. You could get more to the market. And so it definitely helped the sugar industry, but it really was the people.”

Lightfoot said the museum’s plans are not “going to happen overnight.” In order to add more buildings, the museum will need to work with the county to adjust the conditional use permit it currently holds for the 1.8-acre property. Lightfoot said her “very, very best scenario” would be to break ground on the new buildings in two years, at the latest. However, the outdoor exhibit could open much sooner, given that it’s just a matter of moving equipment.

“I can visualize it. I can see it opening,” Lightfoot said. “That’s why it’s so fun to me to say, let’s get the field exhibit done, because that could be done without waiting and permits and architectural designs. My goal for the rest of this year is to get the outdoor exhibit zone moving, get the permit status reviewed and get the architectural designs.”

Lightfoot said she had no cost estimates yet for the project, but said the museum does have “some seed money to start, because we’ve been very conservative with monies that we’ve received.” Over the past eight years, 80 percent of the museum’s operations have been supported by admissions and the gift shop, 10 percent by grants and 10 percent by donors.

“As we expand, I expect to get more visitors, but I don’t expect to cover all the costs,” Lightfoot said.

Until the museum expands, it may have to rethink its funding, Lightfoot said. The museum has incurred additional costs since HC&S shut down; the sugar company used to provide power, water and the occasional maintenance at no charge.

Lightfoot said the museum will likely seek out more funding through grants, capital campaigns and donors to help cover its expansion. She said that the outpouring of support since the closure of HC&S has reinforced her belief that keeping the museum around is “something the community wants.” In the wake of the sugar mill’s closure, there’s still plenty to document and preserve.

The museum also is set to get national coverage when C-SPAN rolls into town this week. The Washington, D.C.-based public affairs network has been traveling the country as part of its 14-month “50 Capitals Tour.” A 45-foot C-SPAN bus arrived on Oahu last week and will travel to Maui on Tuesday. Stops will include the county building and the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center on Tuesday; Baldwin High School, University of Hawaii Maui College, Maui Economic Development Board and the sugar museum on Wednesday; and Lahainaluna High School, a Kiwanis Club of Maui meeting at Tante’s Island Cuisine and Iao Valley State Monument on Thursday.

The programs featuring Maui will run on C-SPAN Oct. 6 to 7.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.