Hvac System to Help Preserve Historic Museum

May 12, 2000
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FARMINGTON, CT — Pity the designer of hvac systems for museums, which play many important and often conflicting roles.

Think about it: Museums are built by people to house artwork and artifacts that have specific temperature-humidity needs, and they’re intended to be visited by humans, who have their own temperature-humidity needs and even add to the building’s existing temperature-humidity conditions (The News, Feb. 28, 2000).

Add to this the fact that many curators and administrators simply do not know enough about their facilities’ mechanical systems, and you’ve got a recipe for patron discomfort and, possibly, damaged exhibits.

However, teamwork seems to be the catchword for the construction of a new hvac system in the works for the 1946 Hill-Stead Museum, a National Historic Landmark located here. The museum houses Impressionist masterpieces by Monet, Manet, Degas, Whistler, and Cassatt.

Built in 1901, the Hill-Stead home is also home to collections of Chinese porcelains, Japanese woodblock prints, and furnishings all arranged in their original setting.

The existing hvac system wasn’t quite as old as the museum’s collections, but it was well past its useful life.

A goal of the Hill-Stead Museum project is to retrofit the hvac system while ensuring the continued preservation of the 1901 Colonial Revival house.

Antiquated System Replaced

The 1940s vintage furnaces and chilling units responsible for producing an indoor environment were good enough when installed, but conservation experts recently identified it as inadequate for the preservation of the building and its collections.

New England Mechanical Services, Inc. (NEMSI, Vernon, CT), will provide a detailed engineering design and will install the system.

The equipment, designed and manufactured by Carrier Corp., employs a Model 30GT air-cooled chiller that is self-contained and has a cooling capacity of 35 tons (420,000 Btuh). The chiller also will provide cooling water for the entire museum and administration area.

The chiller will be located approximately 500 ft from the museum building in order to limit noise, vibration, and visual distractions. A Carrier Comfort Control Network (CCN) system will monitor and control comfort, humidity, and air quality initially in the museum and administration office.

The new system provides a temperature and humidity control range of 65° to 74°F, 40% to 60% rh, and 95% efficiency filtration. This gives the museum’s historic house and collections the humidity, temperature, and particulate-matter stability they need, while supplying the staff with the tools necessary to properly manage these core resources.

Since older portions of the museum are not insulated, humidity sensors will be placed within the walls to monitor moisture build-up. Enhanced air filtration will be achieved through multi-filter air-handling equipment integrated into the building control system.

Perhaps most importantly, the museum staff will be able to monitor and control the system through a single PC interface. In addition, Carrier service personnel will have remote system access to monitor and assist the museum staff with any operations issues.

Completion is scheduled for July 2000. The museum will remain open for tours and programs throughout the construction period.

Preservation

According to Linda Steigleder, Hill-Stead director, “With the new climate control systems, Hill-Stead Museum will be positioned to optimally preserve this historic building and care for, conserve, and display its diverse collections — including paintings, prints, and decorative arts — for the benefit of the more than 35,000 individuals who visit the museum annually.”

The project provides Hill-Stead with its first climate-controlled collections storage area for letters, photographs, books, drawings, and other works on paper, as well as textiles and furniture, enabling the rotation of fragile objects not appropriate for continuous display.

The hvac renovation project also positions the museum to qualify for accreditation by the American Association of Museums, which requires high standards for collection care and preservation.

Modern climate control will let the museum continue to include the collection in tours, workshops, and other forums for the enjoyment and education of an ever-increasing number of visitors, while protecting the condition of the objects for scholarly study and posterity.

“The improvements will enhance the museum in its role as a major tourist attraction in the central Connecticut region, and therefore as a contributor to the economic development of the state,” said Steigleder.

People Behind the Scenes

Hill-Stead Museum was created in 1946 by the will of Ms. Riddle, and serves diverse audiences as a welcoming place for reflection, growth, and enjoyment.

In 1995, the Board of Governors and administration began planning for the major hvac renovation, with a clear priority of preserving the past as embodied in the collection. They engaged Landmark Facilities Group, Inc., East Norwalk, CT, to undertake an assessment of current environmental conditions.

Landmark concluded that the single most important preservation goal for the collection was to stabilize the climate in the house.

In addition to Kronenberger & Sons, Hill-Stead has retained New England Mechanical Services, Inc. (NEMSI); consultant Lori van Handel, director of Preservation Outreach, Williamstown Art Conservation Center (WACC), MA; and the museum also is working with Carrier Corp. on the hvac system.

The equipment manufacturer announced that it will help fund this $1.2 million construction project, which also will be funded with donations by The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving; Friends of Hill-Stead, Inc.; the State of Connecticut Office of Policy and Management; and The Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts Foundation, Inc.

The museum’s Buildings and Grounds Committee has contributed significantly to the project with Robert von Dohlen, American Institute of Architects and Hill-Stead board member, serving as chairperson, and members including Linda Steigleder, director, and Cynthia Cormier, curator, as well as Susan Chandler, Daniel Herzig, Hal Kraus, Wendy Pearson, David Ransom, Prue Robertson, Larry Sweet, Janet Taylor, and Charles Veley.

Hill-Stead’s hvac construction and advisory team includes, among others: Larry Sweet, Ph.D., Carrier vice president of operations; Charles Bullock, Ph.D., Carrier engineering fellow; Charles Veley, Esq., director of global real estate, United Technologies Corp.; Thomas J. Kronenberger & Sons; New England Mechanical Services, Inc.; and, Williamstown Art Conservation Center.

Sidebar: Preserving a 100-Year-Old House

Another goal of the project is to retrofit the hvac system while ensuring the continued preservation of Hill-Stead’s remarkably intact 1901 Colonial Revival house.

The 36-room, 33,000-sq-ft building was designed by pioneer female architect Theodate Pope Riddle (1867--1946), in conjunction with the prestigious New York architectural firm McKim, Mead & White.

The structure was built for Riddle’s father, Alfred Atmore Pope (1842-1913), and contains his renowned collection of Impressionist paintings, prints, antique furnishings, and decorative arts.

The renovation necessitates replication of period woodwork, radiator grids, and wall coverings.

“The challenge presented by this project is to take a l9th-century structure and introduce 21st-century technology without affecting the historic integrity of the building,” said Brian Kronenberger, vice president of Kronenberger & Sons Restoration, Inc., Middletown, CT, experts in historic preservation.

“Wall penetrations will be minimized, piping will be located in closets, with all work mindful of the historic fabrication.”

In preparation for the hvac construction project, the museum completed related upgrades, including three-phase electrical service, gutter replacement, interior duct cleaning, drainage improvements, masonry work, chimney repointing, shoring up the building envelope, installing 73 light-filtering storm windows, and removing/ encapsulating asbestos from the 9,000-sq-ft basement.

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