Slater Museum renovation takes shape

Norwich - Imagine an indoor architectural or art class studying the exterior brownstone walls and arched windows at Slater Memorial Museum, with the sun shining brightly above and the students sitting on benches amid plants and flowers.

The scene is a realistic one for the fall, when the new $8.4 million glass atrium entrance to Slater Museum, the Converse Art Gallery and two gymnasiums on the Norwich Free Academy campus is scheduled to open. The project, designed by DuBose Architects of Hartford, was funded through a capital campaign.

The Board of Trustees, several school administrators, museum Director Vivian Zoe and Mayor Peter Nystrom took their first tour Tuesday of the atrium project under construction. With NFA Chief Finance Officer Rich Rand leading the tour, the 10 participants entered through a plywood door at the base of the atrium fašade that now consists of worn plastic sheeting.

Inside, Rand said, two trees will flank the atrium entrance. He had to point out the gentle up slope on the concrete floor that leads to an elevator shaft straight ahead. To the left will stand a grand staircase and to the right another gently sloping ramp that will be lined with plants and flower beds.

Doors will be cut into the Slater side walls to create handicapped accessible entrances to the classrooms at the front of the building and the auditorium itself. A new hallway leads to the hallway inside the current main entrance to the Converse Art Gallery and the Norton and Alumni gymnasiums - all of which will be made accessible to anyone with disabilities for the first time with the project.

"This whole building in bits and pieces has been transformed into something more usable," Rand said.

The atrium basement will serve as an expansive, climate-controlled storage room for museum collections not on display, with computers to enter data on all the artifacts.

Construction Manager Gary Schnip of G. Schnip Construction said the elevator will have to make seven stops to reach all the levels in the four buildings. Floors do not line up, even between Converse and Slater, which are connected.

Adjacent to the elevator will be a platform where people can buy tickets to attend events at any of the four venues. Or the platform can be used as a stage for smaller events in the atrium itself, Rand said.

The glass atrium is being built between Slater and the Norton gym, with the exterior walls of both serving as side walls inside the atrium. At the different levels along the ramps and stairways, visitors and students can get up-close looks at the intricate stonework, arched windows and doorways.

Rand said that despite the rough winter, the project should be completed in early August. The plan is for it to be completed by the time school starts.

Zoe, who was seeing the atrium for the first time, said she hopes to reopen museum exhibits in September, but said the facility probably won't return to normal until sometime in November. The historic plaster casts of famous European statues and many other exhibits have been packed and removed for safe storage. She said nothing has been damaged during construction.

"The collection is hideously dusty," she said. "We'll need to reinstall almost everything."


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