Westmoreland Museum of American Art makeover under way

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 11:53 p.m.

Judith O'Toole held up her cellphone on Monday and recorded the start of a new era at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg.

The director and chief executive officer captured on video the toppling of the first of four 30-foot-tall granite columns that created a grand entrance to the museum. Removal of the columns marks the end of the museum's austere look and a start toward its more inviting appearance, O'Toole said.

O'Toole said the columns helped give the museum a “governmental-looking” appearance — a perception she said discouraged visitors. People often have told her they would have visited the museum but didn't think they were dressed well enough or knew enough about art to go in, she said.

Museum officials removed the columns as part of an overall $18 million expansion that will bring 12,500 square feet of additional space for galleries, studios and classrooms.

Workers for James Construction of Carnegie used the 75-foot-long arm of a piece of heavy equipment to shove the grayish-white pillar to the ground with a loud bang. Earlier they had jack-hammered and removed steel supports above the columns.

“Wow!” O'Toole said as she recorded the pillar slamming to the earth.

About a dozen museum staff members who stood watching along North Main Street applauded when the column toppled.

A covered walkway with tables and chairs will replace the four columns. A 60-foot cantilevered structure will be added to the North Maple Avenue side of the museum.

Extensive landscaping is planned for an area to the front of the museum's main entrance, making the building more visible to passersby.

O'Toole and the staff watched the second column come down about 2 p.m. Monday. Shortly before noon, workers had to take the first pillar down for safety reasons after it developed a crack, said Rick Avon, superintendent for general construction manager Spaulding Banks Inc.

The columns will be ground up and reused, helping museum officials to get the LEED certification they want for using environmentally friendly construction practices.

“What they'll be reused for, I don't know,” O'Toole said.

Most of the materials on site are to be recycled, said Chuck Ballein, director of museum facilities. “Everything that can be recycled is being recycled,” he said.

Museum officials want to reopen the cultural attraction in 2015.

They 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.

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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