A 1/2-million-dollar project spanning two years is expected to result in a new tourist attraction in the center of Tamaqua, giving the downtown business district a substantial shot in the arm.

Plans are under way for major renovations at the 1905 First National Bank building. When completed, the structure will become a center for tours and the anchor for a 'Visit Tamaqua' entertainment venue that will allow guests to stroll through the museum and then walk to nearby restaurants, art galleries and historic sites, such as the nearby 1894 train station.

The bank building is owned by the Tamaqua Historical Society and has served as the Society museum since 1988. The place has been emptied in preparation for a transformation of the interior and exterior. When finished, the Classical Revival structure will be a multilevel gallery, meeting site, and upgraded repository of local history.

The building will receive all new electrical, lighting, plumbing, HVAC, and new roof.

The first floor will be expanded by removal of a counter that traditionally has divided the space lengthwise. A new kitchenette also will be constructed, new handicapped bathrooms, a second exit and a lunchroom for volunteers.

A second level mezzanine will be built over the bank vault, taking advantage of cavernous interior space. Part of the mezzanine will include a gallery. The mezzanine also will be utilized to host public events, mixers, fundraisers and musical presentations.

The museum was closed after a final tour by local scouts in December, 2012. The museum's artifacts have since been sent to secure storage for the duration of the project.

Construction will begin in May, with six months of work ending at year-end. It will take another six months to return artifacts to the museum and set up new, top-quality displays. The museum will reopen in 2014.

When it does, it'll open in grand style with plenty of panache and a few major surprises.

For instance, the new museum will showcase two priceless, permanent collections yet to be announced. Interestingly, both collections have national importance and are rooted in the town of Tamaqua.

In addition, new, vibrant displays will be unveiled, telling the story of our area with dignity and prominence.

"Out intent is to get most things under glass," said Dale Freudenberger, Society president. "And sponsorship opportunities will be available for display cases, seating and portable exhibit walls."

Funding for the major project comes from a variety of sources: $150,000 from the John E. Morgan Foundation, coupled with $100,000 currently being raised by the Society, still accepting donations. That amount, $250,000, will be matched by a grant from the Pa. Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program through state Sen. David G. Argall.

Other partners include the Borough of Tamaqua and the Tamaqua Area Community Partnership, which is assisting in funding design and engineering through local architect Mark Conville.

"The Museum of the Tamaqua Area" will focus its exhibits on Tamaqua Borough, West Penn, Walker, Rush and Schuylkill townships, and Coaldale Borough.

One part of the transformation was completed last year with the addition of a climate-controlled research library in the former board of directors room at the building's rear, or south side, a $12,000 project.

Volunteers spent weeks setting up the space and transferring delicate paper documents, photos and books into the new environs.

Another component was the acquisition and restoration of the building's original stained glass clock, a $15,000 project. That major undertaking also was completed last year and made possible through the generosity of Tamaqua resident Lois Breiner, who donated the clock in honor of her parents, Henry and Mary Kase Breiner.

The Society has invested $70,000 in the building in the past 25 years, much of that for roof repair work. Still, ongoing deterioration of the impressive building necessitated a major overhaul. The massive brick building has a failing mechanical system, leaking roof, excessive dampness issues and an aging electrical system - all of which will be addressed in the renovations.

The building was last updated in 1960 when ownership transferred from First National Bank to Miners National Bank of Pottsville.

A previous renovation took place about 1950 when an addition was constructed to the rear and the main vault was enlarged.

Freudenberger says the best is yet to come for both the Society and the community.

"We considered relocating. But we felt it was in the best interests of the community for us to reinvest in downtown Tamaqua at this historical location," he explained.

Like other civic organizations, the Society is operated by volunteers who run the museum and work hard to maintain several historic properties in the town.

In addition, the volunteers also stage the community's two largest events - the annual Tamaqua Summerfest and the Tamaqua Heritage Festival.

"Our goal is to have the museum open on a regular schedule every week, and the Society is looking for additional volunteers," said Freudenberger.

With the new research library, and extensive photograph collections yet to be archived, plus a need for tour guides, there are opportunities for local residents to become part of the new museum in a wide variety of capacities.

The museum is within a short walking distance of many of the town's landmarks, such as the Hegarty Blacksmith Shop, the restored 1874 Philadelphia & Reading Railroad Depot and Restaurant, the 1801 Moser Log Home and other points of interest, shops and dining establishments.