By Craig Campbell, Dundas Star News
The final piece of a three-part Dundas cultural puzzle is now underway and will help preserve local history for years to come.
Dundas Museum and Archives board president Clare Crozier walked through a museum property at 139 Park Street West that was quickly becoming a major construction site, last Thursday morning, pointing out where new facilities and features will be located.
This project’s start is actually the culmination of many months – if not years – of planning and work. It’s the final stage of a team effort between the Museum, Carnegie Gallery and Dundas Valley School of Art to find government funding to renovate, improve and protect the historic properties they each call home – and where they each promote Dundas’ history and culture.
“We feel confident we’re going to protect Dundas’ history,” Crozier said. “That has to be done.”
The museum will be closed to the public for the next six months, but staff will move to Dundas Town Hall to prepare plans for new galleries, the new archives and new programming.
For Crozier, it’s a details-oriented project that’s long been planned and arranged, and suddenly hit the ground running last week.
“It’s happening earlier than we expected,” Crozier said, last Thursday morning.
With building permits in place, and the construction contract awarded, museum staff and Collaborative Structures Limited of Cambridge began preparations last week to make the plans drawn up with McCallum Sather architects a reality.
The out-of-town contractor was chosen partly for its experience building the Niagara Falls History Museum at Lundy’s Lane, and Wellington County Museum and Archives in Fergus.
“That gave the board a great feeling of comfort,” Crozier said.
Work has started inside 133 Park Street West – also known as the Pirie House – which the museum has owned for 40 years. Until last year, it was rented out but now will become an integral part of the new museum, creating additional features and programming while adding valuable new space.
Crozier said the Dundas Museum board bought the property between Albert Street and the museum building in 1972.
“Thank goodness they did,” he said. “They had the foresight that we might need the space.”
The approximately 138-year-old Pirie House – which is surprisingly large inside – will be reconfigured with a focus on educational programming.
A few walls will be removed to create one grand main floor space with an area for multi-media presentations, accessible washrooms and wide hallways.
At the front west corner, museum administrator Carolyn Westoby will have her office – one she’s looking forward at least in part because of the bright light coming in several windows looking out onto the original museum building and Park Street.
Behind Westoby’s office will be the main reception or welcome area. Part of the west wall of this room will be removed and the museum’s new glass atrium will be attached there.
The atrium will be the museum’s new main entrance, connecting the original museum building to the Pirie House. It will also house a new elevator which will provide access to all levels of the reconfigured museum.
The Pirie House basement will be dry-walled and improved to city and building code standards to provide extra storage space.
Crozier said beyond removing part of the historic home’s west wall, the Pirie House exterior won’t be altered.
The existing archives room and offices along the east side of the original museum building will be relocated, creating a third artifact display gallery in the main building.
Archives will be moved to the east side of the back gallery, which will be enlarged.
Large glass windows in the back gallery will be moved downstairs, where the former meeting area will become a preparation and storage area.
Visitors will be able to take the elevator downstairs and watch museum staff creating displays and preparing artifacts.
Because the main upstairs gallery won’t be directly affected by construction, it will be used to store many artifacts from the museums’ 12,000 item collection inside a secured temporary room. They’ll wait and see if any off-site storage will be necessary, but hope to keep costs down.
Several new security cameras inside and outside the museum have been added. And services to the building will be maintained during construction and reorganization.
“It’s vitally important we keep heat and humidity at archival guidelines to protect Dundas’ history,” Crozier said.
Last Thursday morning, staff and volunteers were working at a feverish pace, amidst construction workers preparing to start building the atrium as quickly as possible.
“The contractor wants to pour concrete before the snow flies, before it gets too cold,” Crozier said.
If all proceeds according plan, the museum board hopes to reopen the new Dundas Museum sometime in June 2013.
In the meantime, once staff completes the current flurry of organizations, they will still be “open for business” despite the doors of the museum being closed.
Crozier said they will still offer many of their usual archival and research services, and still can be reached by phone, while construction continues.