Developing a Shared Collections Facility on Nantucket

Sponsor: Maria Mitchell Association
Sponsor Liaison: Janet E. Schulte
Student Team: Aileen Caceres, Christa Coscia, and Christopher Surprenant
Abstract: The goal of this study was to determine the feasibility of developing a collaborative collections storage facility for several museums and other non-profit organizations on Nantucket. Through extensive interviews, site visits, and other background research, we found there is an urgent need for climate-controlled, collections storage space. The team concluded that building a new facility under collective management was the preferred option.
Link: Shared_Collections_Facility_final_paper


Executive Summary

From their inception as simple “halls of curiosities”, where collection of artifacts were kept in the homes of the wealthy, to the centers of learning they became as a product of the academic change brought by the Enlightenment, museums have always played an important role in society (The British Museums, 2003). Much of their importance stems from the invaluable and irreplaceable objects that make up museum collections. Regrettably, many museum collections are improperly stored and maintained, and are therefore increasingly susceptible to irreparable damage. This is demonstrated in the survey conducted by the heritage Preservation organization, which concluded that in 59% of institutions in the United States with collections, the collections have suffered damage from light due to inadequate storage environments (2005). Improper storage and maintenance is most often due to a lack of space, money, and staff. This is particularly the case among small museums, such as those on Nantucket, that have especially limited resources but unique collections that reflect local history and culture. The Nantucket museums and other cultural institutions are aware of their community responsibilities to preserve and protect the artifacts they possess for future generations, but they are also keenly aware that they do not have the resources necessary to assure the proper care and storage of diverse artifacts, ranging from archival documents and photographs to plant and animal specimens. In order to ensure the proper care and storage of these objects, the institutions on Nantucket are interested in exploring the possibility of developing a shared collections facility where, through collaboration and combination of resources, items in their collections can be adequately stored and maintained.

Project Goal and Objectives

The goal of this project was to determine the feasibility of developing a shared collections facility for museums, town departments, and other institutions on Nantucket. In order to accomplish this goal, the project team completed five major objectives.

Before determining the feasibility of developing a shared collections facility on Nantucket, the team first identified which institutions were willing to participate and their level of interest. The team contacted appropriate representatives from the Maria Mitchell Association, the Nantucket Historical Association, the Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum, the Egan Maritime Institute, the African Meeting House, the Atheneum, the Artist‘s Association of Nantucket, and the Nantucket Conservation Foundation.

Having identified the participating institutions, we conducted a needs assessment through interviews with appropriate staff and supplemental ‘walkthrough’ site visits of their facilities and their collections storage areas, both on and off-site as appropriate. In addition to the interviews and the ‘walkthrough’ site visits, the project team also held a weekly meeting with representatives from each institution to discuss ongoing research and preliminary findings. Determining the size, nature, and condition of the current collections at the participating institutions was critical to the success of this project; this information was obtained by conducting inventories of the collections at each institution (as shown below).

Space needs by organizationSpace Needs by Organization

To determine which would be the most advantageous location for this facility, the project team evaluated the specifications of both modifying an existing building to suit the organizations‘ needs and constructing a new building for this project‘s purpose. The team also identified how the space was apportioned for different uses and what this meant in terms of the amount of space available for different types of storage based on the climate and other conditions. The project team worked up a rough estimate of the size and type of building necessary to accommodate the various collections, and based on this developed some very rough cost estimates.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Based upon the interviews conducted and the supplemental ‘walkthrough’ site visits, the project team concluded that there is a definite need for this facility on Nantucket. Currently the priceless and irreplaceable artifacts housed by the participating institutions are in great risk of deterioration due to the improper conditions in which they are kept. The facility would provide the proper climate control and storage areas necessary to preserve the valuable objects for future generations. The organizations involved are small in size and therefore do not have the finances or space to create a climate controlled area for their collections individually but, through a collaborative effort such as the proposed facility, the pooling of resources could ensure a safe and proper environment for the historic objects in their care. The existing storage areas are not equipped well enough to guarantee the survival of pieces through which Nantucket culture and heritage are kept alive, and therefore the project team highly recommends that there be continued research and planning for this facility.

The project team recommends that the participants strongly consider building a new structure to be used as the proposed facility. While the topic of an existing building versus a new building was initially discussed in interviews and meetings, it was determined that there are no existing structures that would meet the needs of the organizations. Not only would the existing building have to be of appropriate size, but it would also have to meet the appropriate zoning requirements. Taking these factors into consideration, it would be very difficult for the participants to find an existing structure that would be suitable. While retro-fitting a building might be appealing at first from a financial standpoint, in the long run it will most likely be more costly. An existing building would require working with what is already there or completely redoing the inside of the building. Installing all the proper equipment could also be problematic. With the information gathered from several professionals, the project team concludes that it is in the participants‘ best interest to construct a new building.

Due to its small size, land is a scarce commodity on Nantucket Island. After learning from Andrew Vorce, Director of Planning, that this facility would likely need to be located in an area zoned for industrial purposes, we concluded that there are very limited parcels of land that would be suitable. Of the land suitable for this facility, much of it is located by the Nantucket Memorial Airport and it is recommended that the facility be placed there. Unfortunately, in the industrial district, each 5,000 square foot lot costs about $450,000-$600,000, and given set-backs, a parcel of approximately 22,000 square feet would be required at an approximate cost of $2.0-2.6 million.

From the interviews and weekly meetings with participants, the project team was able to determine that a work/research space is needed. While not every institution would need an area for work/research use, the majority felt it would be a good addition and ultimately add to the safety of the collections. For example, if the participants have to go to the facility and take a piece from their collection back to their museum for it to be worked on and/or researched, this unnecessary transport could incur damage to the object. Since the goal of the facility is to protect the various collections from damage, not having a work space seems to be counterproductive if the participants feel it would be properly utilized. For these reasons, the project team feels that it would be most beneficial to have three work/research spaces. The rooms could be separated into archival, paintings, and natural science collection use. These three broad categories would cover all the bases and would allow the collections to be worked on as well as prevent contamination.

Construction costs of different configuration options

Construction Costs of Different Configuration Options

Based upon the rough construction cost estimates, the project team concludes that the construction costs directly depend on the configuration of the building. Depending on which configuration the participants choose it is going to directly affect the construction costs and operating costs. If the configuration with just storage space is chosen, the construction costs are obviously going to be lower than if the configuration with storage space, a receiving room, and work rooms is chosen. The project team recommends that the participants choose the option that includes, a storage space, a receiving room, and work rooms because although the most expensive option, it will allow them to not only store but maintain their collections all in one place. Annual utilities (i.e. primarily HVAC) would cost approximately $48,000. Additional operating costs would include the costs of security and staffing (including management oversight), but these costs would vary based on the management model and security arrangements chosen and we have not tried to estimate them here. A multiple floor facility is an important option for the participants to consider as a way to cut costs. The project team recommends that the participants consult with architects and developers to determine the most efficient and economical way to lay out the facility.

Summary of costs (1 story facility)

Summary of Costs (1 story facility)

Based on the conditions witnessed during the ‘walkthrough’ site visits the project team concludes that the proper equipment is not always being used thus endangering the lifespan of the collections. As a way to ensure the safety of their collections, the project team recommends that the participants closely look into the proper storage equipment as well as climate control systems. The proper equipment used for storage is essential for the survival of the collections as it protects them from light, contaminants, and pests and in order to determine which one would be most appropriate for the facility the participants should investigate more thoroughly. The project team also recommends that the participating organizations seek the aid of a professional regarding the proper installation and use of an HVAC system that will provide the best climate control available for the collections.

The high cost of land and building on the island coupled with outfitting the facility with efficient HVAC and fire suppression systems as well as museum quality storage compartments ensures that the facility, though necessary, may become a costly venture for the participating organizations. The project team recommends looking into possible sources of funding and grants to financially aid the organizations. Grants could be gained through a variety of sources including the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which is ―an independent grant-making agency of the United States government dedicated to supporting research, education, preservation, and public programs in the humanities‖ (National Endowment for the Humanities [NEH], 2011). The NEH gives preservation assistant grants which ―help small and mid-sized institutions—such as libraries, [and] museums…-improve their ability to preserve and care for their significant humanities collections‖ (NEH, 2011). Grant giving institutions might be more inclined to fund this type of facility if the participants consider the benefits of multi-purposing the site and/or making it a green facility. As advised by Elizabeth Wylie, the director of business development at Finegold, Alexander, and Associates Inc., the addition of housing for staff members to address the shortage of affordable living on the island to the facility may make more grants available. More grants may also be accessible if ‘green’ options are chosen, although these options often raise the initial capital costs. Apart from grants, it is recommended that the participating institutions also look into gaining funds by renting out space to private parties such as local art collectors that need a safe area to store their art. Another option that may be economically advantageous for the organizations to make is to develop a lease to own contract with a developer. This would reduce the initial costs of the facility and allow the organizations to move on with the plans for the facility with fewer funds raised.

After speaking with William Dunlap, the executive director of the New Hampshire Historical Society, about his experience participating in a similar feasibility study and discussing the topic of management during weekly meetings, the project team concluded that there are various options for the management of this facility. The team recommends that the participating institutions discuss their opinions about each option in order to determine which one would best fit their needs. The team believes that, of the possibilities presented, the most suitable options for the organizations on Nantucket would be to create a committee of representatives from each institution and allow them to vote and/or volunteer for responsibilities or to allow the responsibilities of managing the facility to rotate yearly between the organizations. Developing the committee would be similar to a system already in place between many of the participating institutions and may therefore be the easiest to implement on this facility. It would also allow the management to further the collaboration occurring through the planning and use of this facility. Allowing one institution to manage the facility each year would decrease the chance of any miscommunication preventing all responsibilities from being fulfilled and could simplify the management of the facility.