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VIDEO: Renovation of Maine State Museum Goes On, New Opening Set for 2025

Tue August 16, 2022 - Northeast Edition
Spectrum News Maine

The construction phase advances at Maine's capitol complex in Augusta with the recent effort to upgrade the Cultural Building that houses the State Museum, Library and Archives.

For museum officials, it marks the end of a two-year process of carefully moving 800,000 objects in the collection into storage before work could begin. They also will continue planning for what the renovated museum will look like when it reopens in 2025.

That is a longer timeline than was anticipated a year ago, when state museum officials hoped they could reopen the upgraded building to the public — and the thousands of school children who visit each year — by the end of 2023.

"It's a sad thing and we wish it didn't have to be that long," Sheila McDonald, museum deputy director, told Spectrum News Maine. "We hate being closed and we hate not being available to the public."

The building, located at 230 State St. in Augusta, was forced to shutter in June 2020 when its heating and cooling system failed.

The list of work yet to be completed includes asbestos removal, replacement of all major mechanical systems — including heating, air conditioning, and ventilation — and the installation of new windows and insulation to improve energy efficiency.

With an estimated cost of $20 million, McDonald and other officials at the state facility said they are raising money to pay for both the work and new exhibits.

Improved Museum to Be More Inclusive

When the museum reopens, visitors will see a revamped collection of objects, including a new exhibit featuring two humpback whale skeletons, an adult and a calf, noted Maine State Museum Director Bernard Fishman. In addition, he said another display will showcase 70 Maine quilts.

"We're getting the equivalent of half of a new museum," Fishman explained. "It's going to be filled with new things [visitors] haven't seen before and presented in a new way. There will be a lot that's new."

The museum is working to capture the lives of Maine people, he said, and will offer information about a wider group of Mainers to better represent all who live in the state.

From Fishman's perspective, the Maine State Museum, which opened at its current site in 1971, is one of the few institutions in the state that "defines life in Maine."

"We are one of those [museums] that has a permanent place, I hope, in the hearts of Maine people, and that love affair will be sustained and rekindled when they see what we have to offer," he said. "We've changed with the times and been able to improve."

Until the Augusta building reopens, museum officials are available to conduct programs in the field upon request. The library is still open for patrons at 242 State St., and the state archives are housed at 17 Elkins Lane.

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