Piles of dirt speak to the exterior work happening last year at the museum in this image from Tuesday's presentation.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Wally the stegosaurus will be rejoining the Berkshire Museum this spring after some rest and recuperation.
Wally's not the 118-year-old museum's only renovation that Berkshire County residents can look forward to in 2021.
The South Street museum is undergoing nearly $1.6 million in structural improvements and upgrades — both inside and outside — to preserve not only the structure but the treasures it has inside.
According to the museum, the first round of work, which included the freight lift, sewer line, and waterproofing cost about $2 million, bringing the total cost for the 2020 and 2021 projects to about $3.6 million total.
"There truly has been accomplishments in the most trying of years," Chief Engagement Officer Hilary Dunn Ferrone said on Tuesday during a web presentation that described the work and planning being done for preservation, protecting the collections, and improving the museum in ways that will enhance the experience.
Executive Director Jeff Rodgers hopes that the revamped museum will be ready for the public by August.
The first phase of renovations included essential infrastructure work designed and engineered by Hill Engineering and executed by Allegrone Construction.
The first order of business was to give the museum a new sewer line, as its previous one was a century old and sometimes dysfunctional.
"If you drove through Pittsfield last summer you saw construction fence, you saw heavy equipment," Rodgers said. "You saw work going on."
While driving by the museum last summer, residents saw piles of dirt on the lawn. This was due to another important infrastructure improvement that Rodgers described as the heart and soul of the first phase.
The entire foundation of the building was exposed so that it could be waterproofed. The museum has an old fieldstone foundation that had been allowing water into the basement for too long and is essential to secure, Rodgers explained, because it houses collection storage and the aquarium.
New drainage systems were installed around the perimeter of the museum to move water away from the foundation. Rodgers hopes that with this system, the waterproofing won't even need to do its job.
Also included in the exterior improvements is the makeover of Wally, who will return to the museum in the spring. Wally has been rehabilitated, refurbished, and received a fresh paint job done by the original artists.
"He's got this beautiful new paint job, which brought him back to his original glory," Rodgers said.
On the side of the building, the museum's freight lift was extended to the second floor so that large objects can be safely moved to the upper level.
This infrastructure work literally and figuratively sets the foundation for other renovations to the museum and solidifies the building for decades to come, Rodgers said.
Work is currently getting started within the walls of the museum to address environmental and climate issues. This will provide safety to the collections and exhibits that need to be kept in a particular climate with the right humidity levels.
Because the masonry building is over a century old, when cold air hits the uninsulated walls it creates condensation on the inside of the museum. Rodgers described this challenge as "weeping walls" and said that water would sometimes drip down from the ceiling and stalagmites of ice would form.
To address this, an insulation barrier was created on all of the exterior walls so that the interior climate is manageable. This was the beginning of work that was done with Bradley Architecture and Berkshire Design and helped the planners begin thinking about what needed to be done on the second floor.
Rodgers estimated that more than 2 million visitors walked the museum's floors over the last 40 years. Because of the wear and tear, they were not able to be refinished and the second floor received new oak flooring.
The second floor also received a LED lighting system in gallery spaces and a grid of electrical outlets on the floor so that objects requiring power can be positioned anywhere. Previously, the museum had electrical cords extending from the ceiling, which Rodgers said was unsightly and not very safe.
Big layout changes will be made to the second floor that reclaims underused spaces and put them to new uses. There will be two gender-neutral restrooms, a quiet space with a sitting area and water fountain that opens up to windows overlooking South Street, two multifunctional spaces, and two pocket galleries.
"Adding these restrooms on the second floor is huge," Rodgers said. "For those of you who have attended Crane Room events over the years and knowing that when that time came you were marching down either one flight of stairs or two flights of stairs to go find a restroom."
One of the multifunctional spaces will be a lab and the other a studio.
"I hesitate to call these classrooms because these are so much more than that," Rodgers said in regard to the two spaces.
All of the lab and studio furniture can be broken down, moved, and reconfigured for freedom of use. These spaces are intended for all ages, as they can be used for field trips, camps, meetings, and much more.
"What we're really about is creating experiences," Rodgers said. "We are all about learning experiences that are based on ideas that are born from the objects that we have."
The new learning spaces on the second floor will do the duty of the existing classrooms on the first floor, which will be taken over as offices for staff. Over the past two years, Berkshire Museum staff has been offsite and Rodgers said they would ideally like to be under the same roof. (When COVID-19 permits.)
The two pocket gallery spaces are about 400 square feet each and they will serve as a connector to larger gallery spaces. Because these small galleries can be turned over quickly, museumgoers can always expect something new in them.
Rodgers said the plan is to engage local artists, historians, and scientists in these galleries amongst others.
The last component to Berkshire Museum's renovation is the addition of 30 mobile museum units funded by the Feigenbaum Foundation. Described as a breakthrough innovation, these units provide the opportunity to put existing museum objects into a new context by bringing other related objects into the displays to tell different stories.
The mobile museum units can stand alone or together and will have hands-on objects indoors underneath that are aimed at engaging younger audiences.
Rodgers said the future of the museum is all about flexibility, being able to adapt and change.
With an eclectic collection of 40,000 objects that range from fine arts to antiquities to local history to natural history specimens, it's the interplay between those disciplines that real magic happens, Rodgers explained.
These units can also be moved to schools, libraries, and community centers while keeping the objects inside safe. This is especially favorable during COVID-19 times.
Rodgers envisions this project to be ready for summer and hopes that the pandemic will be at the point where people will be able to gather again. He noted that longtime favorites will always be at the museum.
"I hope what you're hearing from me is a lot of excitement about this because it is very exciting," he said. "It's not just about the sewers, it's not just about insulation, it's about the ability to create new experiences for people and that's the future, to continually challenge ourselves to create new ways for people to engage with the Berkshire Museum and want to come back again and again and again."
Correction: the cost for the work to date was incorrect and has been fixed. The new vision presented in 2017 was estimated at about $20 million.
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Homelessness Advisory Panel Reprimanded For Internal Disrespect
By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
Chairwoman Kim Borden warns advisory committee members to be on their best behavior after 'inappropriate' communications.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. -- The Homelessness Advisory Committee reportedly experienced recent issues with "highly inappropriate behavior and communication, threats and the spreading of misinformation" and Chairwoman Kim Borden is not having it.
At the third meeting as a newly established committee on Wednesday, Borden shared her thoughts on the current climate of the committee.
"In the last month, I've been subjected to highly inappropriate behavior and communication, which has include bullying threats and the spreading of misinformation," Borden said. "At this time, I will not identify the specific depict individuals as I do not believe in public shaming. This is not what I signed up for and more importantly, I do not believe that other committee members should be subjected to this extraordinarily destructive dynamic."
This type of communication or behavior may result in a request that appropriate steps be taken to remove the person or persons creating a hostile and/or unproductive environment, she said.
At this time, no committee members are being removed. If any are removed, they will be replaced with individuals with an "appropriate level of civility and a desire to work together as a team and respect others."
Chairman Nicholas Caccamo said the petition's language was not sorted out well enough, so the committee voted on it as a concept that will be sent back to the City Council with a negative recommendation.
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The topic sparking controversy was the reclassification of Human Resource Director Michael Taylor's position and a salary increase of roughly $7,500. It passed 4-1 with Maffuccio voting in opposition.
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Twenty percent of Berkshire County's population has received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccination as of Thursday and around 8 percent have received the second dose. There were more than 3,000 Berkshire County residents vaccinated on Saturday.
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