WASHINGTON — The Seabee museum in California has everything military buffs could want to know about the construction experts’ 63-year history, but since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, fewer people have been able to visit it.

“It’s 200 yards inside the front gate at Port Hueneme, so that really cuts down on who can visit now,” said William C. Hilderbrand, president of the Seabee Historical Foundation. “Before 9/11, we had 25,000 to 30,000 visitors a year.”

That number has dropped to less than 15,000 last year, and all visitors must now have military escorts, Hilderbrand said. The foundation hopes to fix that soon, relocating the museum just outside the fences as part of a $12 million campaign to renovate and update the facility.

Already about $2.5 million has been collected and another $3 million promised for the project.

The museum, opened in 1947, houses a complete time line of the Seabees as well as a variety of artifacts, including a 48-star American flag flown at Normandy Beach on D-Day, the original script for the John Wayne movie “The Fighting Seabees,” and a Humvee used in Iraq.

Hilderbrand said other improvements planned for the museum include more exhibit space and better ventilation systems, to protect the hundreds of artifacts the museum holds.

“The new one is going to be designed as a museum,” he said. “Right now, we’re basically in two warehouses. We’ve got wooden plaques, flags and uniforms; all of those things need some humidity control.”

But reopening access to the general public will be the biggest change for museum workers, who haven’t seen large crowds browsing the exhibits since security at all military bases was stepped up.

Hilderbrand said base officials have already set aside a new plot of land for the relocated museum, and will move the security fence to allow public access to the new building.

Officials are working with foundation officials to continue to staff and maintain the facility once the new museum is completed.

If fund raising keeps up at its current pace, Hilderbrand said, the foundation expects groundbreaking to take place as early as December.

About 18,000 sailors currently serve as Seabees, quick-response construction battalions. Hilderbrand said the goal of the museum is to “celebrate their significant contributions in contingency construction, disaster recovery and humanitarian assistance, throughout history and around the world.”

For more information, go to:

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now