Cost of GW Museum increases by half to $33 million

Media Credit: Delaney Walsh | Photo Editor

The site of the future GW Museum, near University Yard.

Correction appended

The GW Museum opening next fall adjacent to University Yard will expand its size and cost by 50 percent to house additional exhibits and maximize space on the site.

Administrators said they opted to have the museum fill the entire construction site, putting more money into the project that was originally slated to cost $22 million. The project is funded by donations and by accumulating debt.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz said administrators expanded the project in part because the University must receive approval for 70 percent of the square footage in its massive 2007 Campus Plan by 2027, or it must resubmit its building plans to the city.

“The value of density rights is significant because of where we’re located, so to the extent possible, you do want to maximize what you are building on any of the sites,” Katz said earlier this month at a Faculty Senate meeting.

The University has fundraised about $11 million thus far for the project, with almost all of it coming from the Textile Museum and donor Albert Small’s Washingtonia collection. Katz said the University could expect some additional fundraising, but that most of the remaining cost will be covered by debt.

Construction on the 46,000-square-foot building, on track to open in the fall of 2014, has already displaced classes in the building, which currently houses the chemistry and physics departments and several labs.

The building’s construction shifted closer to Corcoran Hall after a mandate from the city’s historic preservation society demanded that it not overshadow the historic Woodhull House next door, associate dean for special projects of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Chris Sterling said.

The GW Museum will hold collections from the Textile Museum, including 18,000 textiles and a 20,000 volume research library along with Small’s collection. It will also house other galleries and space for educational programming. John Wetenhall was named the museum director earlier this year, and will start his tenure next month.

The Textile Museum will move into the Woodhull House, which forced the University Police Department to relocate to Rome Hall last year.

Last year’s budget alotted $8.2 million for the museum, while this year’s budget set aside $20 million for the museum and conservation buildings on the Virginia Science and Technology Campus.

The museums have been scorned this year, serving as a punchline in Hugo Scheckter’s Student Association presidential bid to become the “King of GW”. He vowed to add four more museums to campus, mocking administrators for what he called putting business above academics.

But Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations Mike Morsberger said the ventures have heightened the University’s prestige and added research opportunities at a minimal cost to GW, although he stressed the University’s selectivity when it comes to choosing collections to house on campus.

“We don’t want to become the nation’s attic. You can’t accept every collection in the world,” Morsberger said earlier this year.

Former SA President Ashwin Narla criticized the museum in April, saying the space in the Woodhull House could have been used for student space. He said students should have been involved in discussions about what to do with the the open space, even though the museum development aligned with University President Steven Knapp’s goals to showcase the arts and humanities on campus.

“If you don’t have any students in that room, it’s going to be thrown into a different cause or priority,” Narla said.

This was post was updated on May 20, 2013 to reflect the following:

The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Winston Churchill Archives would move to the GW Museum. In fact, it will still be housed in Gelman Library. We regret this error.

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