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The Cahokia Mounds interpretive center closes Tuesday for $5.5 million in upgrades

A black car passes the gray brick entrance sign for the interpretive center at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic site in Collinsville, in January. The center will be closed starting March 1 for the first major renovations to it since it opened in 1989.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
The interpretive center at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic site in Collinsville will be closed starting Tuesday for the first major renovations to it since it opened in 1989.

COLLINSVILLE — The interpretive center at the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site will close Tuesday for $5.5 million in renovations to parts of the building that haven’t been updated since it opened more than 30 years ago.

The funding, which is part of Illinois' capital improvement plan passed in 2019, will pay for a new roof and new fire, lighting, security and heating and cooling systems. The total project is expected to take between 12 and 18 months, said site superintendent Lori Belknap.

“We’ve been limping along with a lot of structural difficulties for probably the past 10 years or more,” she said. “A lot of the systems in the building are original.”

Visitors to Cahokia Mounds will still have access to the trails, Monks Mound and the augmented reality experience during the closure, Belknap said. The museum will also have outside interpreters during peak times in spring, summer and fall, she added.

Belknap explained she and others at the museum have to compensate for the things that don’t work in the building anymore.

“We have audio that we can’t shut off,” Belknap said. “It just stays on all the time in the gallery, so we’re closing up at night and it can be very silent, but you can hear flute playing in the distance.”

There are more pressing upgrades too, like to the ventilation system.

“We have to climb up into the attic and adjust the air handlers manually to adjust the temperature inside the building,” she said. “It’s something you always have to be cognizant of.”

The upgrades will keep the building at a consistent temperature and humidity, which doesn’t just benefit the people who work at or visit the interpretive center, Belknap said.

“The artifacts too,” she said. “Especially the canoe. The canoe is highly susceptible to humidity changes.”

The closure is an opportunity to make other improvements to the museum, like reopening the theater, installing new entryway lighting and adding a dedicated information kiosk, Belknap said.

“That’s one of the things that we’ve identified that’s really in need out in the lobby,” she said. “We have an information desk, but when you enter the main doors, there’s really nothing there to direct where you should be going.”

The building will close Tuesday, and Belknap explained the grounds south of Collinsville Road will also be closed because there isn’t a safe way to cross the road from parking next to Monks Mound during construction.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.