Plans for new $160 million Tennessee State Museum detailed

April 27th, 2016 | by Emmett Gienapp | Times Free Press

After operating for 35 years out of the basement of a downtown building in Nashville, the Tennessee State Museum will finally be transitioning several blocks away into a shiny, spacious home on the Bicentennial Mall, a new home with a price tag of $160 million.

Last year, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and the Tennessee General Assembly approved a $120 million state appropriation for the construction of a new facility, and Haslam pledged to spearhead an effort to raise an additional $40 million through private investment this year.

Now curators, architects and consultants are eagerly planning the next steps, working from the ground up on a facility designed specifically for the eclectic collections of the museum. When the last piece of stone is laid and the doors open in late 2018, the project's leaders expect attendance to double from the 115,000 annual visitors the museum welcomes every year.

Emily Reynolds, a consultant from Kaegi Resources in Nashville, welcomed the development, saying, "We're past due time to bring this great museum into a free-standing, contemporary space of its own."

On Tuesday, Chattanooga residents were invited to a presentation at Chattanooga State to get a first-hand look at the designs of the building as part of the design team's statewide unveiling in several cities throughout Tennessee. Representatives from the museum and design firms tasked with imagining the space showed renderings of the building and explained what visitors can expect to experience when they come.

Limestone pillars, white oak beams and high glass walls will be featured prominently around the 137,000-square-foot building, which will also feature a 250-seat digital learning center, a children's educational suite, and a grand entrance hall that could serve as an event space. And that's just the bottom floor.

The second floor will house the lion's share of the museum's collections, which range in subject matter from a set of mastodon bones to Civil War battle flags. As it is designed now, museum-goers will be able to take a walk through the history of Tennessee like never before, moving from the geological formation of the area thousands of years ago to the first contact between indigenous Americans and Europeans up to the present day.

Michael Murdock, an architect who helped design the building, said, "Our biggest charge in the design of this building was to make it a stately building."

"The museum is not just presenting history, it's presenting art."

Those who attended the presentation applauded the design, saying it was beautiful.

"It's a useful addition to the Tennessee Bicentennial Mall. It's a long mall with a good view of the capitol," Dr. Gary McDonald, a mechanical engineering professor at UTC, said.

His wife, Shirley, agreed, saying it's a worthwhile investment on the part of the state.

"It's a nice thing for the state. Something the people of the state will be proud of," she said.

According to the museum's website, the state General Assembly created a museum in 1937 to house World War I mementos among other collections from the state and located that museum in the lower level of the war memorial building until it was moved to its current location, the James K. Polk Center, in 1981.

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