Employees take 'hard hat tour' of Westmoreland museum progress

| Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Westmoreland Museum of American Art staff members raised cameras and smart phones on Friday and snapped pictures of the progress inside their future showplace in Greensburg.

About 20 museum employees joined in a “hard-hat” tour of the museum's $20 million renovation and expansion project, scheduled for completion next year.

Judith O'Toole, director and chief executive officer, said she watches the improvements on a weekly basis when she is attending work conferences. She wanted her staff to see the progress.

“The last time we went through we thought — wow — we have to get the rest of the staff to see it,” O'Toole said.

Museum officials are adding about 12,500 square feet of space to the cultural attraction for galleries, studios and classrooms.

A 60-foot cantilever structure will be constructed on the North Maple Avenue side of the building. A tiered garden will span the front of the museum, where three interconnected walkways and a parking area will be added.

A passenger elevator will be installed, and designers have emphasized using natural light throughout the structure.

Workers leveled the grayish-white pillars at the museum's front in December, doing away with the “governmental-looking” appearance that O'Toole believes put off some potential visitors.

An expert confirmed the ground would support the cantilever, O'Toole said. Any further concerns were allayed when workers digging with heavy equipment found solid bedrock, she said.

“Our biggest problem now is getting the weather to cooperate so we can pour the concrete,” she added.

Staff members chatted on the tour as they saw changes in the structure or modifications made in their work areas.

Barbara Jones, chief curator, spent time examining walls, stepping off distances and picturing in her mind the placement of artwork.

While the work is going on, 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.

Museum officials are serious about recycling materials removed during renovations for the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design certification they want from the U.S. Green Building Council for using environmentally friendly constructionpractices, said facilities director Chuck Ballein, who led the tour.

“Everything that can be recycled is — any concrete, columns, stone work,” he said, pointing to bins outside that hold different materials. “There's a separate Dumpster for steel and another just for trash.”

A company sorts through the “trash” later in the process to make certain everything that can be reused has been removed, Ballein said.

Museum officials are taking LEED certification seriously, O'Toole agreed.

“We think it's not only being good citizens of the earth, but also as the museum making a statement,” she said.

The reception desk will move closer to the middle of the visitor lobby in a space brightened by natural light.

A walkway near the lobby will connect the old section of the building to the new cantilever. Museum officials are adding a sprinkler network and an enhanced security system, Ballein said.

O'Toole said she wants to set up a time that the public can see the improvements.

“I think people love to see the progress of it all coming together,” she 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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