What is happening to our park?

A museum neighbor has her questions answered

Editor’s Note: On my way to a meeting with the Board of Friends of Roosevelt Park, I noticed a woman looking at a flyer about the museum’s expansion that had been posted in a storefront window on Columbus Avenue. As we talked, she told me that she lived across from the museum and that she had a lot of questions about how the expansion was going to impact the park. I told her where I was heading and promised to get the answers to her questions for her and email them on to her. Which I did. Realizing that her questions are ones that other neighborhood residents may also have, we’ve decided to include them in this newsletter. -Marjorie Cohen

Lori Famighetti, a restaurant publicist, has lived on West 79th Street–“about 1000 feet from the museum”–since 1983. Before current construction began on the AMNH site, Lori and her 10 year old son Julian walked through Theodore Roosevelt Park every day. The park is where her son learned to ride a bike and to roller skate; it’s where he plays in the snow and runs around with his friends. For him “it’s been a familiar, cozy place to play, better than Riverside Park”. When construction on the site began, Lori had several questions about what to expect and how her son’s “familiar, cozy place” might be affected. For answers, we spoke to the staff of the museum and here’s what they had to say:

Where will the addition be? What’s the footprint? 

The new Gilder Center will be set into the Columbus Avenue side of the Museum complex at 79th Street, with approximately 80 percent of the proposed 230,000-gross-square-foot project located within the area now occupied by the Museum building.

How much land will the Gilder Center addition take from the park?

The new building will extend 11,600 feet or about 1/4 acre beyond the museum’s existing footprint into the park.

And according to calculations done by Friends: Museum construction, actual and added since 1998, has actually added 3/4 of an acre of Park, plus 1 acre for the Arthur Ross Roof Terrace over the new garage, which the Museum funds, and minus 1/4 of an acre for the proposed addition, leaving a net gain of 3/4 of an acre.

This is my son’s question: Where is the time capsule now? Will it be back?

The New York Times Capsule is in temporary storage and will be reinstalled at its new location in front of the Rose Center for Earth and Space.

What about the Nobel Monument?

The Nobel Monument will stay where it is. In consultation with a community Park Working Group, plans for park improvements were developed to redesign the paths around the monument to improve circulation, provide more seating, and create a gathering space off of the path network. While those improvements are being made, the area around the monument will be closed. This work won’t begin until later in the construction period.

How many trees are going and how many will replace them?

Seven trees will be removed and 22 new trees (including six canopy trees) will be planted once construction is completed.

How about the benches?

Fifteen new benches will be added as part of the Gilder Center project, bringing the total to 38 within the construction project area in the park.

Will the entrance near where the time capsule used to be remain open?

The Museum’s Columbus Avenue entrance (at 79th Street) has been closed since August for interior demolition. There will be a new public entrance to the Gilder Center in that location.

What arrangements are being made for increased traffic and tourists?

The project’s landscaping modifications and improvements in Theodore Roosevelt Park are intended to address the increased number of Museum visitors and to ensure Park visitors will continue to have access to areas for gathering, play, and relaxation, as well as pathways for Museum entry and walking through the Park.

How long will the project take? What are the various stages and how long is each expected to take?

Construction is expected to take approximately three years, beginning with the demolition of existing structures. Subsequent stages of construction include excavation and installation of foundations, construction of the building structure and exteriors, interior work and installation of finishes, exhibits and scientific collections. Restoration of the Park will include the park improvements developed in consultation with the Park Working Group.

How will parking be affected (I have a car)?

During construction approximately five to six street parking spaces will be inaccessible. This is to allow for construction vehicles to enter without having to queue on Columbus Avenue, allowing the existing lanes of traffic on Columbus Avenue to remain open.

What will life be like during construction for people like us who live right by the museum?

Similar to most large construction projects, construction of the Gilder Center will result in temporary disruptions in the surrounding area. However, the Museum has committed to implementing a variety of measures (e.g., noise and dust control measures, community safety measures, and outreach and communication with the community) during construction to minimize impacts to the nearby community.

A multi-step investigation of site conditions found there is nothing out of the ordinary about the environmental conditions of the Gilder Center site or the surrounding areas of Theodore Roosevelt Park. These areas are typical of other construction sites in New York City, and the City’s expert agencies concluded that there are “no known risks with respect to hazardous materials that cannot be controlled through the use of the measures commonly used at construction sites throughout New York City.” This matches prior experience in the Park, including when the Weston Pavilion and Rose Center for Earth and Space were built and the western portion of the Park renovated.

What is going to be in the new building? Will it be all research or will it have public space?

The Gilder Center will serve both elements of the Museum’s mission–scientific research and education–by providing:

  • Exhibition halls for visitors and school groups including a new state-of-the-art theater and galleries that highlight vital scientific topics

  • A view into the scientific collections for the public via The Collections Core, which will hold millions of specimens that are part of an irreplaceable record of life on Earth, offering a close look at the essential factual evidence that underpins scientific research by scholars at the Museum and from around the world.

  • Modern educational facilities for hundreds of thousands of students: The Gilder Center will have 13 new or renovated classrooms

  • Programming for thousands of New York State teachers, supporting the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, which educates one-third of all newly-certified New York State teachers in Earth science.

Will we be able to sit on the lawn on the west end of the park facing Columbus Avenue the way we did last summer?

The NYC Parks Department opened two lawns in the Park last summer as part of a pilot program. Recently it was announced that the program will be continued into next summer.

How can I stay up-to-date on construction activities?

Join the email list at www.amnh.org/gildercenter. For questions, you can call 212-769-5246 or email gildercenter@amnh.org. Or, if you prefer, contact Friends at contact@friendsofrooseveltpark.org and we will help you get answers to your questions.

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