The Harvard Art Museums won’t reopen until late 2014, a year later than planned and six years after the closing of the Fogg and Busch-Reisinger museums for extensive renovation.
The delay is due to the complicated nature of the work, said museum officials. The $350 million project involves building a single complex where once there were two: The Fogg and the Busch-Reisinger. The unified Harvard Art Museums will combine new construction with the Fogg’s historic façade and interior courtyard. Even though construction will likely be completed early in 2014, museum leaders say they want to make sure there’s plenty of time to move works from the museums’ massive collection from storage back to the Quincy Street site.
Since closing, museum officials have been working out of a building in Somerville.
“A lot of people think we’re just sort of adding an addition, but in reality, it’s kind of a double project,” says Tom Lentz, director of the museums. “There’s the renovation and bringing up to date the old historic structure and also adding a new addition and making sure those meld together in a sensitive and efficient way.”
Lentz stressed that there’s plenty of money to pay for the project, which has been designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano. He’s also not concerned about the delay.
“This is in many ways our one chance to get it right, so we don’t want to rush things,” he said.
It has been a decade since Harvard’s plans to build a new museum on the banks of the Charles River collapsed. Five years later, another proposal for a project on land in Allston also fell apart.
But in 2008, Harvard decided to focus on its Quincy Street complex. The Fogg, which opened in 1927, was gutted with its facade and two side walls kept in place. The Busch-Reisinger, which opened in 1991, was knocked down. The Arthur M. Sackler Museum, across the street, has remained open. But at project’s end, all three museums will be housed under the same roof, a structure that will feature six floors, a new cafe, restaurant, and 300-seat auditorium. The current Sackler will be used for another purpose, which hasn’t been announced yet.
In the past, delays and shifts frustrated some on staff. Several curators left in recent years, including contemporary curator Helen Molesworth, who took the job of chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
But when told of the 2014 new opening date, Jennifer Allen, the director of collections management for the museums, said she didn’t mind a bit. “I was relieved,” she said. “It just gives us a little more time to plan. It gives us the benefit of going through it one more time to make sure we’re getting everything right.”
These days, Lentz said, the mood is positive.
“Because we keep pointing across the street and there are tangible signs of progress,” he says. “I think we’re past the tipping point on that now, and people are focusing on reopening. Everybody’s working hard and everybody’s tired but I think there’s a different kind of dynamic that kicks in. What would be deflating is if they looked across the street and there was a big hole still.”
The hole has been filled with concrete and steel.
Last week, construction workers guided a tube delivering concrete to a walkway connecting to the ramp that runs from the Carpenter Center on Quincy Street, and will now stretch around the Prescott Street side of the complex all the way to Broadway.
Museum visitors will enter via the ramp or through doors on Prescott and Quincy streets.
Museum and construction officials say it became clear several months ago that a 2013 opening date would be unrealistic.
“We all think we made responsible projections but you can’t predict what you can’t see,” said Kerim Evin, operations manager for Skanska USA Building Inc. “I think a lot of the things that were found, some of them were completely unexpected.”
One slowdown occurred when workers began to tear down sections of the old buildings on Quincy and Prescott. They found asbestos sandwiched between layers of concrete. Removing it required more time and effort than originally anticipated.
In addition, demolition had to be restricted to off hours because the noise disturbed classes that were in session nearby.