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In depth

The Museum of the City of New York: Phase II


Given the art, culture and history of New York City, there are probably innumerable museums in the US each competing with the other to be a place of excellence and grandeur.  However – in many more ways than one – the Museum of the City of New York (MCNY) has carved out a special place for itself.

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Ashok Dutta - Hill InternationalBy Ashok Dutta

Founded in 1923, as an art gallery and a museum to present the history of New York City and its people, the museum’s collections include paintings, drawings, prints and photographs.

It is also home to costumes, decorative objects, furniture, rare books and manuscripts, marine and military collections and last but not the least a collection documenting the golden age of Broadway theatre.

Among the rare items in collection is a chair that once belonged to Sarah Rapelje, daughter of Joris Jansen Rapelje of Nieuw Amsterdam, and said to be the first child born in New York State of European parentage.

Museum of the City of New York LogoThe museum is also known for its comprehensive collection of photographs, which includes works by Stanley Kubrick, Jacob Riisand, Berenice Abbott, as well as many Depression-era Federal art project photographs. And last, but not the least, it is also home to several recreated furnished rooms from the house of John D. Rockefeller, donated by his son John D. Rockefeller, Jr.

Phase II Development

In January 2008, New Jersey-based project and construction management firm, Hill International, created a little piece of history when it announced the award of a contract to provide construction management services for the modernization and preservation of MCNY. The two-and-a-half-year contract had an estimated value to Hill of nearly US$1.6 million and was placed by the New York City Department of Design and Construction.

Scope of works for the renovation included major alterations to office and administrative space, as well as the entire south wing of the building. In addition, the first, second and third floors of the building were to be renovated to expand the museum’s exhibit space and public space.

The expansion was designed by Polshek Partnership Architects.

This was not the first time that Hill International was awarded a contract covering MCNY.

The company had previously managed an earlier phase of a modernization project involving the installation of a new slate tile roof, mechanical and electrical upgrades, a new addition to the museum and other building renovations.

Museum of the City of New York  Phase IIFor that work, Hill received a Project Achievement Award from the Metro New York/New Jersey Chapter of the Construction Management Association of America for managing the “Best Public Project Under US$10 Million.”

The Phase II development was large in size and included a gross area encompassing 56, 000 square feet of renovations to the existing building. This included the complete 4th floor, 5th floor and attic and partial renovation in the cellar, ground floor, first, second and third floors. These spaces included six new gallery spaces, three classrooms, administrative offices, public bathrooms, digital lab, and collection storages.

Also, the existing chiller plant was due to be expanded to accommodate the newly-renovated spaces to provide climate control as required for museum spaces. The space conditioning for the museum prior to the renovation was performed by over 75 window air conditioners at great cost and with no real temperature and humidity control.  A new chiller plant was constructed with new central air conditioners.  Temperature and humidity controlled spaces were made for 38 Deg. F negative storage and 50 Deg. F. photographic storage.  High density storage areas were created for artefact storage and specialized cleaning stations made to clean historic garments.  Computerised building heating and cooling controls were installed to control and monitor critical areas.

Museum of the City of New York  Phase II“To accommodate the logistical challenges of the renovations, we were able to change the construction method, change works hours and coordinate with MCNY staff to limit all impact to the normal daily operations, ” said John Swartzwelder, Hill’s Project Manager for the expansion. “Communication played a very big role in getting to the resolution that worked for all parties involve without any cost impact.”

Swartzwelder had dozens of years of experience managing renovations to landmark buildings such as New York City Hall, The Bronx Zoo Lion House, Staten Island Zoo Reptile Wing, El Museo delBarrio, Queens Central Library to name a few and all this too played a pivotal role.

Commenting on the major challenges faced, he pointed out: “It was not an easy task since the prime contractors had never worked on a LEED project before. We coordinated and managed the process with all parties throughout the construction process in order to achieve this goal.”

The project used the traditional project delivery method design/bid/build (DBB) and its specification included milestone dates that compressed the duration.

In addition, the owner exerted pressure on the design team to increase quality, decrease cost and, more importantly, compress the duration from concept to completion.

Museum of the City of New York  Phase IIHill International was able to work with all parties in everyone’s benefits based on principles of trust and mutual respect, mutual benefit and reward, collaborative decision-making, early involvement of key project participants, early goal definition and intensified planning, and open communications. 

For their part, the owner wanted to maintain maximum gallery spaces which were open to the public and continue to provide and accommodate third-party rental for events, while the architect had developed a three-phase master plan for the expansion and preservation of the museum.

Hill was able to modify the phasing plan and sequence the work so that floor-by- floor were turned over, enabling MCNY to add more exhibition spaces and continue to generate additional revenue from third-party rentals.

These were not easy tasks since they required major coordination between trades, planning, and sequencing of the work.

Lasting Impact

“The museum is such an important part of New York City’s culture and history and it was a tremendous honor to be part of its renovation. The work in which we participated will have a lasting impact on generations of visitors to come, ” Swartzwelder said.

Terming MCNY as a historic and landmark building that is open to the public seven days a week, he added: “Construction occurred during hours of operation and required disruption to the mechanical system in order to accommodate the renovations. It must remain climate controlled and cannot have fluctuations in temperature and humidity in exhibition and gallery spaces.”

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