At the Concord Museum, they’re calling the party “Barn Voyage.” But the levity of the event’s title belies the significance of what it means to the 131-year-old institution.
The groundbreaking on Feb. 24, which will launch the razing of the barn-like Cummings Davis Building, is the first big step in a $13 million renovation and expansion endeavor.
Executive Director Peggy Burke hastens to point out that the large brown barn that will soon be gone from the museum campus only looks like an antique structure from Thoreau’s time – in fact, it was built around 1980, so no priceless architectural history is being destroyed in this undertaking.
“When we met with the architects, our first question was whether we could retrofit out existing buildings,” Burke said. “But it soon became clear that what we had wasn’t cost-efficient or energy efficient. So it’s coming down.”
The upcoming changes to the Concord Museum go far beyond the replacement of one building, though.
When the project is done in 2018, the museum’s campus will boast a 110-seat “lyceum” for meetings and lectures, new gallery space, new education space, more room for administrative offices, a much more efficient parking lot, a bus drop-off area, and an outdoor program area. Museum staff is even working with a preservation architect to create an authentic replica of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin.
The Concord Museum has been “bursting at the seams,” in Burke’s words, for years. The reconstruction will meet numerous needs, from providing much more space for the many educational programs that the museum runs to providing visitors to Concord with a welcoming overview of all the sightseeing and historical landmarks in the region.
Getting the look of the new construction right was just as important as filling the museum’s programming needs, Burke said. “The original 1930 museum had a very residential feel to it. It was created as a collection of period rooms.” In the 1990s, renowned architect Graham Gund designed a new entrance and more exhibit space.
What followed was months of discussion and rumination among Burke, members of the museum’s Board of Governors and Building Committee, and professionals from the selected architectural firm, DesignLAB Architects, about how to seamlessly integrate new and old, Burke said.
“We spent a long time with the architects getting the scale and the materials exactly right. Too much glass would be bad for the exhibits and would also be visually jarring to the surrounding historical district. We needed something that would fit in with the neighborhood.” Of course, they also needed something that would meet the myriad restrictions involving the surrounding wetlands and zoning regulations.
A new 13,000-square-foot Education Center will support the museum’s hallmark object-based learning approach, in which artifacts such as Emerson’s desk and Paul Revere’s lantern help tell the story of the historical events they represent. These programs benefit over 12,000 students and teachers a year — not only from Concord and surrounding suburbs but also from communities in Lawrence, Lowell and Everett, for whose field trips the museum pays for transportation and waives program fees.
And future visitors will notice the difference from their first step in the door, Burke said. “One goal from our strategic plan is to be more helpful for the visitor community. We’re dedicating quite a bit of space to this. For example, along with a more open gift shop, we’ll have a coffee bar and seating. We’ll use our gateway lobby space to provide visitors with more information about other things they can do when they come to Concord. We think we can make the whole feel of the visitor experience more inviting.”
“The Concord Museum is an extraordinary institution doing really innovative things, particularly on the education side,” remarked Robert Miklos of DesignLAB, principal architect on the project. “The museum’s new image will be open, inviting, contemporary, a resource for the community. We’ve designed it as a gateway that will orient visitors from all over the U.S. and the world to the many important sites of Concord.”
With nearly $11 million of the $13 million goal already raised, the Concord Museum is well on its way even before ground has been broken. The hope is for construction to conclude in 2018.