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Supporters preparing to push for funding

Building to be closed to the public for two-thirds of construction

Posted: November 23, 2011 - 1:01am
Dennis Chester shows his son, Kellen, 5, the Eagle Tree at the Alaska State Museum on Tuesday. The museum would eventually need to find an alternative space during the 20 months it would take to tear down the existing building and build and open a new one.  Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Dennis Chester shows his son, Kellen, 5, the Eagle Tree at the Alaska State Museum on Tuesday. The museum would eventually need to find an alternative space during the 20 months it would take to tear down the existing building and build and open a new one.

The Alaska State Museum has been an institution in Juneau for decades, but it’s one that the city and its hundreds of thousands of visitors may have to learn to live without for up to two years.

The new state Library, Archives and Museum project now underway will be built on the Willoughby Avenue site of the current museum building.

That means if project advocates, including history buffs around the state and members of the Juneau legislative delegation, are successful in getting approval of remaining funding from the Parnell administration and the Alaska Legislature, the museum could “go dark” for up to a couple of years, said Linda Thibodeau, director of the Division of Libraries, Archives and Museums.

The construction plans are still being drafted and a timeline has yet to be finalized, but a closure time of about 20 months is expected. However, when that 20 month period would start is not clear.

Among the questions yet to be answered is “how many tourist seasons we want to miss,” said Bob Banghart, museum curator.

The museum staff wants to minimize impact to the public, but also has to ensure the builder is able to complete the building as efficiently as possible.

Two other functions that will eventually find a new home in the new building won’t be affected by the construction. The state Library and the State Archives are both located elsewhere, and their operations won’t have to change due to the construction, Banghart said.

In fact, much of what the museum does is done elsewhere, including traveling exhibits, and most Alaskans outside Juneau won’t even notice the construction issues, Banghart said.

In Juneau, the closure of the museum isn’t scheduled to begin for 14 months after full construction starts.

During that time period, the museum’s new storage area will be constructed, and artifacts will be transferred a single time, from their current location to their permanent new home, Banghart said.

That will minimize handling, saving work for the staff and reducing risk of damage to artifacts, he said.

In the meantime, Banghart said he’s looking for a temporary location in which at least some museum displays can be put up temporarily while the main museum building is unavailable.

“We want to have a presence, it is important to have a presence,” he said.

No space has yet been identified, and Banghart declined to identify which locations were under consideration.

It hasn’t yet been decided what the museum will choose to show at the temporary location either.

Some of that may be determined by the condition of the space that’s available, he said.

“Those spaces are not going to have a full complement of environmental controls,” he said. For any items displayed there “the material has to withstand a little more of the rigors of a conventional environment,” he said.

The interim location also has to have adequate security for whatever is shown there.

Further, they want to have a large enough space so they feel good about charging admission, he said.

And the division has to be able to afford it, and know it will be available when it is needed, whenever that turns out to be.

“We’re not walking around with cash in hand, but we do have some options were looking at,” Banghart said.

“What’s exciting for us in the division is that this has been talked about for years, and now we’ve got one of the most important projects in Juneau since the State Office Building in progress,” he said.

Rep. Cathy Muñoz, R-Juneau, said there’s strong support for the project throughout the state and the Juneau delegation has met repeatedly with top state officials about the project.

“All the indicators we’ve received to date (are) that the governor is very supportive, and I’m very hopeful,” she said.

She said museum supporters are eagerly watching the governor’s budget proposal in December for more museum funding.

Banghart said if a direct appropriation is made for the project, work could begin more quickly, while waiting for bonding authority could take longer.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

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