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Museum plans Branchport campus project

    KEUKA PARK—“The Finger Lakes Museum is not just an idea anymore,” announced Executive Director Don Naetzker. The $40 million Finger Lakes Cultural and Natural History Museum took a step closer towards becoming a reality on Thursday, May 3 when site plans for the Discovery Campus in Branchport were unveiled at the Esperanza Mansion.
    The Finger Lakes Museum is expected to be a cultural resource dedicated to the education, stewardship and enjoyment of the Finger Lakes region. The 13-acre Discovery Campus will be the first of three phases for the Finger Lakes Museum. The former Branchport Elementary School will be renovated in order to construct the site. Naetzker pointed out the museum purchased the facility from Penn Yan Central School District two years ago. The second and third phase of the project will be the main campus, a 620-acre site in Keuka State Park.
After the meeting John Adamski, museum board president, said the main campus project has now been broken up into two phases. The first part of the main campus building, which is estimated to cost $20 million, is still projected to be complete by spring or summer 2014. The next phase of the main campus, planned at an additional $20 million, is “hoped” to directly follow the initial main campus project. However, Adamski said it will depend on fundraising results and no date has yet been set for the third phase of the $40 million museum.
    Naetzker presented the design plans for the Branchport campus. He explained how the site is intended to be a research center with hands-on educational exhibits and activities. “Everything on this site, we want to be educational and informative,” said Naetzker. He detailed the amenities which the Discovery Campus will offer. There are four different types of educational programming the site will focus on: education and research, outdoor interpretation, community use and museum support.
    Education and research incentives will include a meteorology and mapping center, animal tracking, flex-space classrooms, a fresh water lab (touch tanks) and craftsmanship studio. For outdoor interpretations, there will be educational gardens, a kayak center, fresh water and animal monitoring, trail and habitat interpretation and a storm water and bio-filtration exhibit. Community use functions will be athletic fields, public waterfront access and community event space. Offerings for museum support include offices, storage rooms and a presentation room/meeting space. “Programs will be authentic, fun, immersive, and sustainable, stated Naetzker.
    As part of the renovations, spaces once used for classrooms will converted into labs. The former school gym will be turned into a space used for presentations and community events. The facility will also have a green roof that is rain-absorbent. Naetzker discussed the anticipated timeline for constructing the Branchport campus. He explained the plan is to break ground on the project “hopefully by the end of July” and have the grand opening take place on Earth Day 2013.
    Naetzker also showed a video which gives a virtual tour of the Discovery Campus. The video brings individuals through the premises of the Branchport site and shows functions such the kayak center. “The Discovery Campus is not a building,” indicated Naetzker. “It is a journey.” John Adamski, the museum board president, expressed astonishment regarding the progress being made on the project. “I am humbled by the progress made to date,” said Adamski. “We have advanced this project in ways I could not have imagined.”
    Construction of the Discovery Campus will be financed by $2.3 million of state funding which the museum received through the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council. Those funds will be coming from Empire State Development ($1.5 million), the New York State Office of Parks Recreation & Historic Preservation ($400,000) and the New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation ($381,000). Through the Regional Economic Development initiative, Gov. Andrew Cuomo allocates grants to each of the ten councils in the state.
    Matthew Driscoll, the president and chief executive officer of Environmental Facilities Corporation, addressed the economic benefits which would arise from the museum. “The new jobs and economic stimulus that will result from the construction of The Finger Lakes Museum are precisely what Governor Cuomo envisioned when he created the Regional Economic Development initiative last year,” explained Driscoll. Overall, the project (all phases included) is expected to form and retain 100 direct jobs within the museum, 330 construction jobs, and generate somewhere from $12 million to $15 million for the region due to increased tourism. Driscoll touched on how he felt Yates County was a great location to have the museum. “This is such a beautiful place,” he remarked. “There is so much to do here and so much to celebrate.”


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