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Posted June 8, 2010 | comments Leave a comment

Proposed museum at Jim Barnett still up in air

By J.R. Williams - jrwilliams@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Debate on the Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum's proposed facility at Jim Barnett Park continued Monday night with a presentation from architects on its design.

Chuck Swartz of Reader-Swartz Architects presented a wealth of information in a PowerPoint originally given to City Council members in 2005. More than 50 people were listening Monday at the park's Active Living Center, including city leaders, museum officials and residents.

Models and architectural drawings of the design, completed several years ago, were available for public view along with examples of building materials planned for use at the facility, which has a groundbreaking set for April 1, 2011.

Swartz painted an idyllic picture of the park with the museum as an attraction. Big-name companies would provide cutting-edge technology to build an environmentally responsible, Internet-wired, 27,427-square-foot facility with local labor.

"The building is the exhibit. The exhibit is the building, and the building fits the park," Swartz said. "Our goals were to make the park better."

Swartz fielded tough questions from residents and members of the city's Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.

Several residents who spoke, including members of Jim Barnett's family, were skeptical of the current plan. They expressed concern over preserving open space and whether the park is the best location for the museum.

"Twenty-one thousand square feet is a big parcel. I really hate to see what we have to give up to do that," said Linda Ross, who lives on Jefferson Street, citing a measurement of the building's footprint. "I have supported the Discovery Museum, [but] there should be some other solutions.

"I grew up here. I cherish every blade of grass. I think we can have it both ways."

Supporters say more than $2.5 million has been spent on the current design and that moving it could jeopardize pledged donations.

The project gained widespread attention after achieving the highest LEED certification level -- a globally recognized environmental checklist. The museum has been raising funds for some time and is about $1 million shy of its goal of $8 million, the facility's estimated cost. But the project must jump several administrative hurdles to get off the ground again.

A special permit approved by the city and required to build the facility has expired. A lease on the park property has lapsed as well.

That means the Parks and Recreation Department's advisory board has to start that process over again, department director Brad Veach has said. A memorandum of understanding between the organization and the parks board also likely would have to be approved.

The City Council, which holds ultimate authority over whether the new museum is built at the park, recently directed the parks board to revisit the issue and come forward with recommendations to the council.

"Both sides have salient arguments," said Councilman Evan Clark, who attended the meeting. "There certainly is an argument for preserving open space," and to the "reciprocal benefits" of the facility to the park as a whole.

"The pros and cons are certainly present on both sides," he said.

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