$25M grant allows Mass MOCA to embark on third phase of renovation


NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- With a newly authorized $25.4 million grant in hand, Mass MOCA has begun preparation for construction on Phase 3 of its multi-decade renovation project.

While actual construction is not expected to begin until spring, according to museum Director Joseph C. Thompson, staff members already are working to clean out Building 6 -- the focal point of the project.

The renovation of Building 6 will add some 130,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum's existing 200,000 square feet. The triangular-shaped building sits on the westernmost part of the campus at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Hoosic River. It also will include significant infrastructure investments in its performing arts courtyards and other exterior venues.

"It couldn't have come at a better time, when the city is really looking to grow," said North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright. Between Mass MoCA and the recent expansion at the Clark Art Institute, "it has the potential to bring many more visitors to the area."

Mass MoCA, which opened in 1999 on the site of the former Sprague Electric Co., draws approximately 120,000 visitors each year, according to its website. Officials estimate that number to increase by 65,000 patrons annually after the final phase of renovation is completed.

During its Phase 2 expansion from 2002 through 2008, the museum renovated an additional 200,000 square feet including more galleries, performing arts facilities, outdoor festival fields and courtyards, and 125,000 square feet of commercial lease space.

After Gov. Deval Patrick signed off on the grant earlier this month, museum officials presented details of the Phase 3 renovation, which will affect all 26 buildings on the 16-acre former factory campus.

Thompson said that until the final design and construction documents are completed and bidding begins, Mass MoCA staff will be working to clear out 15 years worth of stored items, and performing minor demolition work that can be done.

He expected bidding to be complete and the actual construction to begin in the spring, with completion expected for late 2016 or early 2017.

Part of the work will include expanding and upgrading the water, sewer and electrical infrastructure to handle the growth in capacity on the campus.

In order to help fund the ongoing maintenance and utility costs, Mass MOCA will soon launch a capital fund drive to start building an endowment fund and to help pay for costs that go beyond the state grant, he added.

Thompson noted that the project will include the enclosed second-story walkway that connects Building 6 to the rest of the campus, making each gallery reachable through the second floor tunnels, through which visitors will be able to circle the entire complex without having to step outside or double back.

"You will be able to see the full extent of the factory campus that can't be seen now," Thompson said. "We're very excited about it."

He said unlike the museum's early days, when Mass MoCA was an hour-long stop for most visitors, visitors will stay longer and see more art, Thompson said.

The changes also stand to broaden and modernize the area for its important performing arts shows like the popular FreshGrass and Solid Sound music festivals. Combined with other Northern Berkshire attractions, like the reopened Clark Art Institute and burgeoning Greylock Marketplace, "We're on the cusp of a real overnight or long weekend destination," Thompson said.

"It's easy to do the math: The more overnights you can trigger the greater the economic impact," Thompson said. "This creates ripple effects throughout the county."

Part of omnibus bill "An Act Financing Information Technology Equipment and Related Projects," the Mass MoCA funding is paired with funding for public higher education campuses, public safety facilities, local libraries and state and government buildings. The appropriations bill totaled more than $1 billion.

With the addition of the quasi-permanent Sol Lewitt exhibit in 2008, Mass MoCA changed up its format, and the new renovations promise to enhance that change in approach.

"Our idea is to ... creating more long-term, programmatic partnerships with artists, museums and galleries," Thompson said. "There are many, many people out there looking for creative ways to work together."

Berkshire Eagle Staff writers Adam Shanks and Scott Stafford contributed to this report.


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