Naval Base’s collection currently housed in two huts

Gareth Dodd | Ventura County Star

High-ranking retired and active duty U.S. Navy officers donned hard hats and grabbed shovels during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday for a new Seabee Museum near the main gate of Naval Base Ventura County at Port Hueneme.

The $9 million facility, being built by RQ Construction, has been financed through donations to the Naval History and Heritage Command by the CEC/Seabee Historical Foundation.

The Seabee Museum will be located outside the base’s perimeter fence to allow visitors easy access from Ventura Road.

“I was present at a groundbreaking at Bethesda (Medical Center) with President George W. Bush, and that was a big deal,” said Rear Adm. Greg Shear, commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command.

“But to me this is a bigger deal. The museum is a celebration of 67 years of Seabee history. Seabees now serve in 50 countries throughout the world, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, and are still making history.”

Capt. James McHugh, Naval Base Ventura County commander, said construction of the 36,000-square-foot museum should be completed by the fall of 2010.

“The museum should open a couple months later,” he said. “It will take a couple months to get it ready inside. We have to move displays from the old museum and get it set up. This new museum is bigger and better, and will allow us to share the Seabee experience and history with the community.”

McHugh said the addition of gardens, a fountain and other design elements will raise the total cost to about $12 million.

The existing Seabee Museum opened in 1947 and is housed in two Quonset huts that lack heating and air conditioning. It displays artifacts, uniforms, weapons and photographs documenting the history of the Seabees, the construction battalions of the Navy.

“Because it’s a purpose-built museum, it will tell the Seabee story much more succinctly,” said Lara Godbille, museum director. “There’s a big difference between now and what we will have. It’s much more interactive and immersive, especially for young people who don’t know the difference between World War II and Vietnam.

“And there will be much more outreach to schools. Ideally, every child on the Oxnard Plain will come here to learn the history and significance of Seabee history.”

Godbille said easy public access to the new museum should return attendance to pre-9/11 levels, or about 35,000 visitors annually.

“I think it will go back to pre-9/11, plus another 15,000 for a total of about 50,000 a year,” she said.

© 2009 Ventura County Star

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