Museum changes location, downsizes
KEUKA PARK--With a change in direction, the Finger Lakes Museum's board of trustees voted to move the project from its proposed location in the Keuka Lake State Park to the site of its Discovery Campus in Branchport. The resolution was unanimously adopted at a special board meeting in August.
The initial museum initiative in 2010 selected the Keuka Lake location out of 19 considered sites throughout the Finger Lakes and had an initial $40 million cost projection. Board President John Adamski said this new decision will reduce the total scope from revised plans for a $20 million project--with a $10 million operating endowment--to an $8 million to $10 million project.
The former Branchport elementary school, which the museum purchased from the Penn Yan Central School District for $200,000 in 2012, was initially intended to serve as its Discovery Campus, a research and education center and would have been an adjunct facility to the museum's main campus in the state park. But during renovations, when it became evident none of the classroom walls were structurally load-bearing, they were removed, resulting in 17,000 square feet of clear-span open space.
"That's when we realized that there were more opportunities and options available to us," said Adamski. "We started to think about more valuable uses for the space. It's 17,000 square feet of open space that we don't have to build and it's situated on 13 acres of land that we already own."
Contractors have completed more than $1 million in renovation work to the former school building and grounds to date including asbestos abatement, a new roof, new underground electric service, landscaping, additional parking spaces, and a new entrance drive from Route 54A. "It only made sense to capitalize on those investments," Adamski added.
Officials say they feel the tradeoffs are worthwhile. Anything built by the museum in Keuka Lake State Park would become the property of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation because it would be situated on state land. The site was originally offered to the museum in 2010 under the terms of a long-term lease with that and other stipulations included.
Philip Lentini, the museum's executive director, said the biggest tradeoff would be losing the view of Keuka Lake's west branch. He said, "For me, it makes more sense to build the museum on property we already own and develop a single site. It will be much easier to raise funds, which in turn will accelerate the progress of the project."
The Discovery Campus initially became a priority because it was the only part of the museum project that was shovel-ready when Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched his Regional Economic Development Council Initiative in 2011. But Lentini noted that benefactors are reluctant to contribute to an adjunct facility--especially when the main project hasn't been built yet.
The new strategy is to build the entire museum at the Branchport site, including the 150,000-gallon freshwater aquarium that was originally slated for the state park. Most of the original plans for Keuka Lake State Park will remain in play except for the extensive live animal habitat trail. Museum officials are working with architects and exhibit designers to see how to best transform the building into an exhibit hall and add more space where it is needed. In the meantime, other construction work has been temporarily suspended.
Adamski said he and Lentini discussed the change in strategy at length with State Parks officials and that they are supportive. The agency will be transferring a $498,000 grant that was awarded to the museum in 2012 for design work at Keuka Lake State Park to be used at the Branchport campus instead. He also said that State Parks wants to continue to partner in events and programs with the museum at the park.
"We are excited that plans for the development of the Finger Lakes Museum continue to advance," said New York State Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Rose Harvey. "Providing the public with a rich interpretive experience on the geologic and human history of the Finger Lakes stands to be a great economic engine for the region. We look forward to developing cooperative programming and forging strong partnerships with all of our Parks in the Finger Lakes."
Plans that won't change include the construction of a bald eagle aviary and exhibit, an historic 19th-century winery and vineyard, and the Creekside Center--the museum's canoe and kayak livery on Sugar Creek, which borders the Branchport campus and connects to Keuka Lake. Museum officials plan to schedule a series of public meetings and design charrettes with community members and potential benefactors to explore ideas for other exhibits and programs. The project is being re-branded "The Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium."