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June 30, 2009

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

A little more than two years after moving into its Starling Avenue building, the Virginia Museum of Natural History is in the moving process again.

It is moving many specimens being kept in storage at the former museum building on Douglas Avenue to its current facility.

The specimens being moved are those that are sensitive to heat and high humidity levels, such as mounted animals and certain fossils. Once they are moved, heating and air-conditioning systems in the former museum building - now known as the Research and Collections Center - can be shut off.

That is expected to reduce museum operating expenses by about $20,000 in the new fiscal year that will start Wednesday, said Operations Manager Rian Culligan.

Due to budget cuts, the state expects the museum to trim its expenses by about $73,000 in fiscal 2010, according to Director of Administration and Services Gloria Niblett, who also is interim executive director.

The rest of the savings is expected to be achieved through measures such as using energy-efficient light bulbs, turning lights off when rooms are not in use and reducing staff's discretionary spending, museum officials said.

This winter, just enough heat will be turned on in the old building to keep sprinkler system pipes from freezing, said Culligan.

He said with little heat and no air conditioning, temperatures in the building could get almost unbearable for museum staff who occasionally go over there to retrieve items or study specimens for research.

Culligan said about 75 percent of the natural history specimens in storage on Douglas Avenue are being moved to the Starling Avenue location.

Marketing and External Affairs Director Ryan Barber said the museum will look for ways to use those specimens in current and future exhibits.

"We want to keep it fresh," he said of the exhibits, so visitors hopefully will see something new whenever they come.

Items being stored at another location - space donated by SunTrust Bank for the museum's use - are being moved to Douglas Avenue. Those items are not sensitive to heat and humidity, said Culligan.

On a recent afternoon, the Douglas Avenue building - which was a school many years ago, before it became the first museum building - was quiet and smelled musty inside.

Rooms and hallways contain some natural history specimens and materials used in old exhibits. Building materials, equipment and office supplies not in use are scattered among the specimens.

For instance, buckets of stucco are piled near an old exhibit pertaining to rocks. Piled along a wall in the building's auditorium are roughly 300 chairs used for special museum functions. Tables fill the auditorium's stage.

Barber said much of the equipment and furnishings in storage will be sent to Richmond as time allows and staff become available to haul it there.

The items are owned by the state - not the museum itself - so "we can't sell it, get rid of it, have a yard sale, or whatever," he laughed.

About 40 percent of the Douglas Avenue building is occupied by items in storage, officials estimated.

With more than 22 million specimens of flora and fauna in the museum's collections, there is no way the Starling Avenue building can contain all of them, so the Douglas Avenue building always will be needed for storage, Culligan surmised.

The museum is the state's official repository for natural history specimens, so its collections will grow in the future, Barber noted.

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