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The 134,000-square-foot Gilcrease Museum — an amalgam of five buildings cobbled together on a hillside west of downtown over the past 74 years — is coming down, city and museum officials said. Stephen Pingry/Tulsa World

The city’s decision to build a new, smaller Gilcrease Museum, rather than renovate and add to the existing structure, was based on two related facts: the building is in bad shape, and rebuilding it to today’s museum standards would cost much more than the city has to spend.

How much more? About $17 million, according to an analysis of the structure done by SmithGroup, the lead architect on the project.

Jame Anderson, cultural practice director with SmithGroup, said the discussion changed from renovation to new construction once the firm’s analysis of existing conditions was completed.

The analysis, she stressed, showed severe problems.

“Originally, the interpretive master plan, they weren’t planning to renovate every single space in the building. But when we conducted our analysis, because of the building envelope, or the facade, because every door and window needed removal and replacement, because all mechanical systems needed replacement, there were some structural issues and so forth and so on,” Anderson said.

“Because the list was so large, eventually, in order to have an up-to-code, museum-quality environment, we were essentially going to have to touch all phases.”

To have done that — plus add 10,000 square feet to the existing 134,000-square-foot structure — would have created a budget problem, she said. The city has $83.6 million, including $10 million in private funding, to spend on the project.

So the decision was made to look at what could be done to develop the project in a way that met the museum’s top priorities while staying within the city’s budget.

Those priorities are increasing gallery space and preserving the collection.

“That deals with the way that story is told in the interpretive galleries, and it deals with the collection spaces, so the care of the collection,” Anderson said. ”… Then everything above that bar is, basically, it’s flexible, and we can work to make sure we are hitting the museum’s and the city’s square footages.”

The new 89,000-square-foot museum won’t be able to accommodate Gilcrease’s “100% wish list,” Anderson acknowledged, but should set it up for the next 50 years by providing flexible spaces and room for growth.

“We can’t build something that then can’t change. Exhibits that you see on Day 1 are not going to be the same exhibits that exist 15 to 20 years from now,” she said.

A critical consideration in SmithGroup’s analysis was that the project is funded primarily with public dollars.

“So we want the constituents in Tulsa to feel like when they go to the Gilcrease again they can see where this money was spent and that the museum has transformed,” she said. “That is the story that is being displayed and the way that the artifacts are displayed, but it’s also that the museum has a new life to it.”

Another important consideration going forward, Anderson said, is to ensure that the new museum is built in such a way as to take advantage of its beautiful surroundings in the Osage County hills.

“It is amazing. It really is amazing. … Such a place of respite,” she said.

Tulsa voters approved $65 million to renovate and expand the museum as part of the 2016 Vision Tulsa sales tax package.

Gilcrease also has $8.6 million in Improve Our Tulsa funding set aside for the project, as well as a $10 million donation from the A.R. and Marylouise Tandy Foundation.

The mayor’s Gilcrease Museum Vision Task Force voted unanimously last month to recommend building a new museum.

The final say went to Mayor G.T. Bynum, who sits on the task force.

The project is expected to take four years to design, engineer and construct.

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Gallery: Original Bob Dylan lyric manuscripts at Gilcrease Museum

Kevin Canfield




Twitter: @aWorldofKC

Staff Writer

Kevin Canfield has covered local government in Tulsa for nearly two decades. He also has reported on downtown development, zoning and community planning.

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