The Lyceum in Alexandria, the city's former Bicentennial Center, closed this month in preparation for its conversion into a city museum.
The renovations will include an expansion of the exhibition space, new carpeting, lighting, storm windows, a new kitchen on the second floor and painting.
In addition, the city will be installing an elevator to enable the handicapped to reach the building's second floor.
The renovations are part of a plan to convert the building, at 201 S. Washington St., to a "Center for the Comprehensive History of Alexandria." Exhibits at the Lyceum will focus on Alexandria history.
Ruth Hohl, a museum exhibit specialist for the city, said she is "thrilled about the exhibition space" that the renovation will provide. The expansion has "been a long time in coming," she said, and it will "help me do my job better."
When the Lyceum reopens to the public this spring, it will feature two exhibits: "Alexandria Crossroads," which will look at transportation in the city, and "Historic Alexandria," which will feature the photographs of Nina Tisara. Later exhibitions will include one on the history of the Lyceum, according to Kenneth Turino, assistant director of the Lyceum.
Turino said that the elevator is necessary to transport handicapped persons and the elderly to activities, such as concerts and lectures, held in the building's second-floor auditorium.
The new kitchen will handle food preparation for receptions on the second floor. Previously, any food preparation had to be done in a small kitchen on the first floor.
Vice Mayor Patricia Ticer said the money for the elevator was a "bone of contention" when the City Council voted on the renovations early last year. She agreed with Turino that the elevator is necessary.
The renovated Lyceum is "a logical focal point for an interpretation center," Ticer said. Its location in the "center of Old Town" makes it a "good jumping-off point for visitors to the city," Ticer said.
Council member Donald C. Casey, who along with former vice mayor James P. Moran opposed spending the money for the renovation, complained that the work is going to cost more than twice the $100,000 asked for in the original budget projection.
Casey said he was worried about projects such as the Lyceum renovation, as well as the controversial proposed high school crew facility, that are "designed without regard for cost, priced out and then presented" to the council. He said he finds such projects especially vexing when members of the council are trying to hold the line on the city's tax rate.
The Lyceum first appeared in Alexandria in 1839, part of a lyceum -- or public discussion hall -- movement that started in New England. According to Turino, the lyceum movement created many libraries across the nation.
John Quincy Adams once lectured at Alexandria's Lyceum, which was founded by Benjamin Hallowell.
The Greek Revival-style building served as a Union hospital during the Civil War and was converted to a private residence after the war's end.
According to Turino, the building was scheduled to be demolished when the city took control of it in 1969.
Since then it has been used as a state tourist center and as Alexandria's Bicentennial Center.