Advisory panel working on design of future Coast Guard Museum

Edotor's note: This corrects an earlier version

New London — More than two dozen people representing more than 30 organizations are spending the weekend contemplating the themes, designs and exhibits that will attract the public to the $100 million future National Coast Guard Museum in downtown New London.

The National Coast Guard Museum Exhibit Advisory Panel held an unofficial kickoff meeting Saturday morning at the Coast Guard Academy, where the passion was evident among the former Coast Guard members and representatives from nonprofit organizations all planning to contribute to the final design.

“Seeing things start to come together is exciting,” said Tina Claflin, who recently retired after 22 years of service in the Coast Guard and who represented the Women’s Leadership Initiative at the weekend conference.

Claflin has been part of a core group that over the past few months has been sharing ideas for exhibits that will cohesively tell a story at the museum.

The real task will be sorting through the sheer number of stories to help represent a branch of the armed service that dates back to 1790.

Details about what exactly will be in and around the museum have not been determined, but there is already talk of an interactive situation room, amphitheater, a helicopter on the roof and a permanent spot at city pier for the barque Eagle.

Specific details were being worked out behind closed doors.

Retired Coast Guard Captain Wes Pulver, executive director of the National Coast Guard Museum Association, said it will provide an interactive experience that “immerses visitors in the thrill, excitement and challenges of Coast Guard duties through multimedia visualizations and waterborne exhibits.”

Gary Thomas, a member of the core advisory team, said the Coast Guard is at its roots a lifesaving organization, and one challenge will be representing that fact thematically.

“Do we put an aircraft somewhere and, if we do, what type of aircraft?” Thomas said. “The goal is to, by next summer, have a full interpretive plan.”

Thomas is the chairman of the National Council of Coast Guard Spouses’ Clubs and executive director of the Foundation for Coast Guard History.

He was joined in a room Saturday by representatives from groups that included Association of Rescue at Sea, Coast Guard Cuttermen Association, Coast Guard Lightship Sailors International Association, U.S. Lighthouse Society and Order of the Ancient Trident Association among a host of others.

The weekend conference is a critical first step in deciding what the museum will look like when it opens its doors, according to Richard J. Grahn, president of the National Coast Guard Museum Association.

The goal is to open the museum in 2020.

As part of their research, members of the advisory panel planned a trip to the site of the future museum on Saturday along with visits to other significant area attractions — The Custom House Maritime Museum, Fort Trumbull, USS Nautilus and area lighthouses.

Grahn called the area the “epicenter of maritime history in the United States.”

He asked participants to visualize a family of four in a minivan and asked the question, “Why are we going to the Coast Guard museum? What’s going to be in there that would attract the whole family?”

Speaking to critics who have opined about the Fort Trumbull area being a better site for the museum, Grahn said sustainability was a major factor in the Coast Guard choosing the final location.

Fort Trumbull lacks the foot traffic, he said, noting that 1.4 million people annually visit the Cross Sound Ferry and another 2 million are in and out of Union Station, both situated next to the proposed museum site.

Pulver said fundraising for the museum has been steady over the first year, with about $8 million in signed pledges and donations.

He said he anticipated $30 million from the federal government and $20 million from the state for construction of a pedestrian bridge over Water Street from the city-owned parking garage.

“We have the opportunity to be on the ground floor of building a world-class facility for the men and women of the Coast Guard,” Grahn said.

g.smith@theday.com

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