Rebar work is under way as part of the below-grade areas of the Clark Art Institute's new Visitor, Exhibition, and Conference Center facility take shape. The lower level of the VECC will house special exhibition galleries, family areas, meeting space, dining and retail facilities.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The construction project that is transforming the Clark Art Institute's campus will not be completed for another two years, but some benefits of the project already are being utilized.
"The project is going very well," Clark spokeswoman Vicki Saltzman said recently. "We have achieved substantial completion on Phase IIA — the HVAC, the mechanical, electrical and underground work. We have moved in to use some of those facilities, like the new loading dock and art handling areas.
"Trucks now come down a tunnel to deliver or pick up shipments. When handling works of art, you obviously want a controlled climate to handle them."
Another immediate benefit is the updated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system for the Clark's "lower campus," which right now includes only one building that is open to the public: the Manton Research Center.
When construction and renovation is completed in time for the summer 2014 season, visitors will enjoy a new visitor center and a renovated main museum building, the 1955 neoclassical building.
That building was closed to the public last fall, but Saltzman said the Clark is looking forward to a successful summer season even without the use of its signature structure.
"Our primary concern is always the quality of the visitor experience, and we're doing everything possible to make sure there is no change in our ability to provide that," she said. "The white building has been closed since last November, and at this point between 'Clark Classic' and 'Clark Remix' in the Manton, virtually everything that was on display in the main building is on display."
The Clark does have 72 French impressionist paintings from its collection on an international tour, but Saltzman noted the tour predates the closure of the main building.
"With the exception of those, everything you would expect to see in the 1955 building is now on display in either 'Clark Classic' or 'Clark Remix,'" Saltzman said. "We've actually found a lot of energy and dynamism around seeing things in a different way. You experience art differently in every setting."
Part of the setting for visitors this summer will be the construction of the Clark's new Visitor, Exhibition and Conference Center. When finished, it will feature a new lobby — allowing the Clark to recapture space in 1973 Manton building — a café, a special exhibition gallery, meeting space and a terrace looking out onto a 1.5-acre tiered reflecting pool.
Clark Director Michael Conforti said the goal of the project, which has been in the works for more than a decade, is to "optimize the setting, the beautiful Berkshires setting, enhance the visitor experience and provide facilities for our expanding programs.
"To achieve this, we've reimagined the circulation on site and embraced the concept of a true campus with all of the buildings oriented toward a kind of interior landscape garden surrounded by these hills," Conforti said at a press event last October.
Saltzman said the mild winter has helped keep the project on schedule.
"Obviously, with the weather getting warmer, it ramps up quickly," she said. "We're starting to pour some of the architectural concrete walls. It's a very exciting time. You can start to see it taking shape."
The Clark has reported a total project cost of $145 million, a portion of which is helping to boost the local economy.
"To date, some 15 firms from within about a 50-mile radius have been involved in the construction activities on our campus expansion project," Saltzman said. "This represents about 50 percent of the total number of firms that are providing a variety of subcontracting and consulting services associated with the project."
The Clark plans this summer to release an economic impact study that will demonstrate not only the short-term effect of the multiyear construction project but also the long-term effect of having an internationally known fine art museum in northern Berkshire County, Saltzman said.
Going forward, the museum is committed to continue using local subcontractors on the project, which is being managed by Albany, N.Y.,'s Turner Construction.
"It is an important consideration in all of the decisions we make to use Berkshire-based and Albany-based contractors as much as possible on this project," Saltzman said. "It's just part of being a good neighbor."
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