There’s still a year or so to take in the great Brontosaurus and other treats of the natural world, past and present, at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.
Then, beginning in 2020, the galleries will close for major renovations — the first such pause in the museum’s history.
That paleontological news emerged Monday night at the regular meeting of the East Rock Management Team, which drew two dozen neighbors to the community room at mActivity gym on Nicoll Street.
Yale Peabody Museum Director David Skelly was on hand along with several colleagues to preview the project, entirely Yale funded, which begins in the spring of 2020 with the closing of the dinosaur hall and the vacationing of the great thunder lizard with Research Casting International (RCI) in Toronto.
Eventually most of the galleries will close for the renovation and then the re-installation of the extensive collections of bones, birds, entomological, and anthropological treasures. If all goes according to plan, a grand reopening will take place in the fall of 2023.
Skelly said the museum, which was founded in 1866, has been in the current building since 1926, so a major renovation is long overdue and the university is fortunate enough to have the funds to do it.
The major features include a reconfiguration of the galleries. allowing for 50 percent more public space, including a new central gallery designed for humans to linger and talk; a new dedicated space for the K-12 visitors in school groups in the basement of the building; a cut-out lane on Sachem Street for the school buses to enter; and from that side a separate entrance down to the new kids’ area, thus eliminating the current crowding that occurs when there’s an onslaught of young visitors.
Most of the renovation will be interior. Public passersby will notice a new pathway from Whitney Avenue going west towards a new courtyard area adjacent to one additional building in-filling the area behind the current complex.
Skelly said the central gallery will have seating, which will change “the feel” of the current museum. Dedicated temporary galleries will also increase opportunity for “an expanded range of curatorial voices. “Big picture, we’re thinking what a natural history museum will look like in the 21st century,” Skelly said. “We’re fortunate to have the funds to do it. We want to support the programs liaising with the New Haven community.”
East Rocker Rob Bjornson asked Skelly whether the admission fee — now currently $13 for adults and $6 for children — might be eliminated (as it is, for example, at the Yale University Art Gallery) when the museum reopens.
“If we can make that happen, I’d like to, but I can’t be sure,” Skelly replied.
East Rock Alder Anna Festa expressed support for what she had heard, a feeling shared by most of the attendees. She asked about the safety of the proposed walk-through from Whitney to the new courtyard and up the hill toward Prospect Street.
Yale Central Facilities Senior Planning Architect Christina Chmelar said the new corridor and courtyard will be well lit. She also provided assurances that the design would be such so as not to attract homeless folks, also a concern that Festa raised.
Other interior changes will include a new elevator, a redesign and restoration of the Discovery Room so that adults can be amazed there as well as kids, and a new space to show the heretofore under-displayed collections in the history of science and technology.
Skelly reassured his listeners that the museum’s world-famous dioramas would be lovingly treated and unchanged. Otherwise, he said, “you’d chuck me out.”
It’s a beloved museum, he concluded, and when the renovation is done, the hope is it will emerge both beloved and re-fitted for a new century.
The main designers of the project are Centerbrook Architects.