ABC15 investigates: Why did Gov. Jan Brewer close Arizona's Mining and Mineral Museum?

PHOENIX - It's hard to miss. Just steps from the state capitol, on Washington Street at 15th Avenue, the building with the gigantic tire and enormous coal shovel out front.

But something is missing at the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum.

Missing are the sights and sounds of hundreds of thousands of Arizona school children barreling through the doors to learn about rocks, minerals and the history of mining in our state.

Visit the museum today and you will find it is locked up, shut down and stripped of its name.

See earlier photos of museum visitors, memorabilia

A sign on the door says "Closed for Construction".

But the ABC15 Investigators discovered there won't be any construction this year or anytime soon.

We combed through hundreds of pages of public documents, blueprints and design plans to find out why a piece of our state's history, a museum dedicated to educating school children and a valuable community resource was dismantled.

It was back in February 2010. Governor Jan Brewer announced her Centennial gift to the people of Arizona would be a brand new museum.

Calling it her legacy, Brewer proclaimed the state would raise millions of dollars in private donations to transform and modernize the old museum as part of the celebration of Arizona's Centennial.

But the story of the Mining and Mineral Museum starts long before Arizona became a state.

The first Mining and Mineral Museum was established in 1884.

For many years its home was at the state fairgrounds.

Fast forward to 1991 when Polly Rosenbaum, the longest serving member of the state legislature, helped arrange for the state to acquire the historic El Zariba Shrine Temple.

You can still see Rosenbaum's name and face on a plaque on the front of the building.

By the time Rosenbaum, a Democrat, died in 2003, a very small staff and a group of dedicated volunteers had transformed the Mining and Mineral Museum into a popular destination for school field trips.

Karen Churchard, who heads both the Centennial Commission and the Centennial Foundation, is tasked with planning centennial events and raising the funds to pay for them.

"I have taken my nieces and nephews there and we have pictures we took in front of the big shovel," Churchard told us.

She told us the concept for "The Centennial Museum" has evolved since Brewer first announced the plan.

"Initially it was really focusing on the Five Cs and it was more of a heritage museum," Churchard said.

Arizona's five Cs are copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate.

We learned that the state's efforts to raise as much as $5 million from businesses related to the 5 Cs fell far short of expectations.

Yet the concept and the price tag for the new museum continued to evolve.

Churchard said, "It was the governor's office that came up with the concept of having a very highly interactive museum."

The Centennial Museum has given way to the newest concept: "The Arizona Experience Museum" -- a high-tech showcase of our state's past, present and future.

Churchard says this "Signature Project" is the most expensive of all the Arizona Centennial Commission's endeavors.

The ABC15 Investigators have learned the budget for the new museum went from $3 to $5 to $15.75 million -- even though they have only been able to collect $250,000 for the project and a pledge for $1 million more from a large local mining company. 

We also found out that all the money they have raised for the new museum has already been spent on glossy plans and elaborate designs.

All the plans are on hold until they can raise at least $8 million or half of what they plan to spend.

"The main delay was that we were not able to raise the funds we initially thought we could raise," Churchard said.

When we asked Churchard why the old museum had to be closed before they had the money to begin the project, she told us the Centennial Commission was not involved in the decision to close the old museum.

We spoke to a couple who say that whoever made the decision made a mistake.

"I just fell in love with the place. I am having a hard time. I cannot leave this behind," said Shirley Cote.

"The mining and museum is about more than minerals, it is Arizona's identity," she said.

Cote and Doug Duffy met at the Mineral and Mining Museum.

They fell in love and got married, and they worked there for the last 20 years.

They say museum workers and volunteers were warned not to speak out against the new museum project.

And when they did—they say the consequences arrived on April 30th of last year.

They call it "The Saturday Night Massacre".

Museum staff was called to attend an off-site after hours meeting.

"When I was walking over there, I felt like we were being led to the slaughterhouse," Cote said.

They were led to another state building

and met by a woman from the state's department of human resources.

"She said, ‘Welcome to our party.' She asked for our names and she said we were on the 'guest list,'" Cote said.

"The guest list turned out to be that we want your badge and your keys and you're all out of work," Duffy recalled.

The couple told us the state had arranged for police officers to be present and a locksmith was already working on the doors.

"It was just that quick. After 23 years, it took about 23 seconds to fire all 10 of us," Duffy said.

The ABC15 investigators requested an interview with Brewer several times.

After the governor's office declined, we caught up with the governor at the ribbon cutting ceremony at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

We asked her why the Mining and Mineral Museum had to be closed when there was no money available to begin building a new museum.

She told us it was a budget issue and she had to make tough decisions.

But when we pointed out this really was not a state budget issue and we asked her what she would say to the people who worked there like Doug and Shirley—she ended the interview.

For the foreseeable future, the building on Washington where the Mining and Mineral museum used to live will remain empty and closed.

So will they ever build a new museum here?

"I hope they will. It is hard to say if it will ever be built. I mean, that's our goal," Churchard said.

"They may build something but it's never going to be anything as good as what they had to start with that they destroyed," said Duffy.

"There was absolutely no reason to close this museum. It's unfathomable. A lot of people are very disappointed and they don't know what to do about this. We need for them to speak up. Don't just sit idly by and let this go on. Speak up, tell the legislature, tell the governor—we need this back," said Cote. 

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