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Westmoreland Museum of American Art's expansion to feature lush landscape

| Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 11:30 p.m.
An artist’s illustration of the South Gardens planned at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

Westmoreland Museum of American Art officials didn't forget a new Greensburg resident's comments when considering the expansion of the city cultural attraction.

The man said, during a focus-group meeting months ago, that “by the time I was (at the museum), I realized I passed it already,'” recalled Judith O'Toole, museum chief executive officer and director.

Officials pledged to make the museum more visible from North Main Street and North Maple Avenue as they planned the expansion of the building to add 12,500 square feet of galleries, classrooms and studios.

“Pedestrians (and motorists) will be able to see the museum itself and see into the museum,” O'Toole said.

The heaped mound of earth on the downtown side of the building will be leveled, improving visibility, and be replaced by tiered gardens. Lush native plants and trees, along with a meadow, will be planted.

Workers will add three interconnected walkways and a new parking area.

“My hope is that people will be delighted by it and use it and see it as a new public green space,” O'Toole said. “We want it to be a place where people come ... during lunch hour, after the end of work.”

More than 75 trees will be planted, including maples, beeches, birches, flowering dogwood and Eastern redbud.

And 200 shrubs and 2,500 meadow plants, including native grasses and native perennials, will be added.

On the side of the museum facing Greensburg Salem Middle School, workers will plant trees in the “bosque” fashion, giving the area a “Parisian” feel, said Frederick Bonci, founding partner of LaQuatra Bonci of Pittsburgh, which designed the landscaping plans. The Spanish word “bosque” means “grove of trees.”

The plants outside the museum will be designed to eventually rely on water supplied by nature, Bonci said.

Workers started the building expansion about six weeks behind schedule, but O'Toole said she has been assured the museum will meet its May 2015 target date for opening.

The construction is part of a $38 million, five-year capital campaign, with $18 million for capital, $16 million for a new endowment and $4 million for operating costs.

Museum officials are using the Unity building that formerly housed Stickley Audi and Co. on Village Drive, off Route 30, as a temporary site for the museum, called Westmoreland @rt30.

O'Toole and Bonci said they hated to see the oak tree on the North Maple Avenue side of the museum be cut down earlier this month.

“I had quite a few calls on it,” O'Toole said. “What I said, ‘It bothered me as well, but that particular tree had to come down.'

“We took one tree down, but we're going to be planting dozens of them,” she added.

The tree was felled for practical purposes, Bonci added.

“We always hate to remove trees ... but it was the only place from which the museum could expand its existing services,” he said.

Workers spared a twin oak on the North Main Street side of the museum, Bonci said.

Some crabapple trees on the property will be removed, but he said they are deteriorating and need to go.

Most of the landscaping work will be done in the latter stages of construction and take about two months to complete, Bonci said.

“I'm hoping it's a landscape that provides value, is cherished and can be learned from,” Bonci said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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