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Construction of Mississippi museums may be just few weeks away

In total, the museum complex will encompass more than 300,000 square feet. A ground-breaking ceremony is slated for next month, and the target completion for the museum’s shell is May 2015.

In total, the museum complex will encompass more than 300,000 square feet. A ground-breaking ceremony is slated for next month, and the target completion for the museum’s shell is May 2015.

The State of Mississippi is scheduled to select a general contractor Sept. 26 for phase one of a pair of museums whose construction is projected to run $80 million.

The contract award — which could go as high as $40 million — is a prelude to an Oct. 24 groundbreaking for the long-awaited Mississippi Museum of History and the accompanying Mississippi Civil Rights Museum on

Situated on Old Capitol Green, one will house the story of the Magnolia State through its pre-Columbian past, its evolution as an agrarian region with the arrival of the first European settlers and on to today’s emergence as a diverse and innovative manufacturing center. The other will chronicle the decades-long struggle of African Americans for such basic rights as voting and the enjoyment of previously “whites only” public accommodations.

The first phase gets the shell built and completion of exterior landscaping for the complex to be built between North and Jefferson streets, said Kevin Upchurch, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Finance & Administration, the state agency overseeing the bidding as well as the up-coming construction.

Screen Shot 2013-09-12 at 9.35.05 AM“We anticipate the shell will be completed in May of 2015,” Upchurch said, and added the $30-million build-out phase should begin the following month.

However, that next phase will require additional money, he added.

The DFA will ask legislators to put the $30 million for the build-out phase in the 2014 general bond bill, according to Upchurch.

The state is expected to pitch in another $10 million toward $20 million for exhibits. Private fund-raising will soon be under way to cover the remaining cost of the exhibits, museum officials say. Corporate sponsorships of exhibits will be sought as well, they say.

The museums will share common areas and a 200-space below-ground garage but otherwise will be distinct in appearance and in the exhibits featured, said Lucy Allen, director of the Museum Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and the official in charge of choosing the exhibits that tens of thousands of visitors will view upon the opening of the museums in Mississippi’s bi-centennial year of 2017.

In total, the museums and their common space will cover 319,000 square feet on four floors. Shared space includes the lobby, meeting rooms and an auditorium that will seat 300 and catering kitchen.

The second floor will be reserved for a pair of halls to accommodate temporary exhibits. A hall will be dedicated to each museum, though the design will allow for the halls to present combined exhibits.

The 131,733 square-foot history museum, in the planning stage since the late 1990s, will come as a continuation of the nearby William F. Winter Archives and History Building, the Old Capitol and the War Museum, sharing the limestone and brick exterior appearance of its neighboring buildings, said Jackson architect James Eley, whose firm Eley Guild Hardy Architects& Engineers joined with the Jackson firms of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemon Architects & Engineers and Dale Partners Architects to design the history museum.

Design work on the Museum of History had been substantially completed but underwent a revamp after state leaders decided to add the Civil Rights Museum. “We kept a lot of the original design,” Eley said.

The job of designing the 74,670 square-foot Civil Rights museum went to the Freelon Group of Durham, N.C. While it, too, will have a limestone and brick exterior, its outside walls will include terra cotta “used in a very modern way,” Eley said.

The Freelon Group, he said, “used a lot of metaphor in its design” and drew from the Civil Rights Movement.

Visitors will enter the complex through a two-story open lobby. The Museum of History will be to the left and the Civil Rights Museum to the right. Off the lobby will be the Hall of History, a soaring space that will connect to classrooms and open to an outdoor porch and the auditorium.

In a promotional guide to the museums, project planners say visitors to the Museum of History will enter an introduction theater where they will gather around a crackling campfire. As the lights dim, the sounds of a single guitar will introduce the story to come in exhibits covering these eras:

» The First Peoples

» Native Americans, Europeans and Africans

» Territories, Statehood and Treaties

» Cotton, Slavery, and Civil War

» Freedom, Reconstruction, and Counter Revolution

» Rebuilding, Progressivism, and Repression

» The Great Depression, The New Deal

» Social Change, Diversification, and Innovation

In designing the Museum of Civil Rights, architects incorporated the “This Little Light of Mine” exhibit theme by providing an oculus that illuminates the central part of the permanent exhibits.

“This tall circular ethereal space allows light and views from inside and outside the space,” museum officials say in their promotional materials.

“This beacon of light is accentuated from the exterior on three sides and vertically through the roof, especially in the evening. This illumination symbolizes individual and community light that shines on the heroic struggles, provides a venue for dialogue, and illuminates a common path forward.”

Further, the promotional material notes, “A stunning sculpture honoring civil rights veterans will be the focus of this dramatic light-filled space.”

Seven galleries of exhibits will encircle the central “This Little Light of Mine” gallery.

Main exhibit themes in the galleries are:

» Mississippi’s Freedom Struggle

» Mississippi in Black and white

» A Closed Society

» A Tremor in the Iceberg

» “I Question America”

» Black Empowerment

» Where Do We Go From Here?

» This Little Light of Mine

While construction of the museum buildings continues over the next four years, a lot of work lies ahead in preparing the exhibits, many of which will be interactive, project chief Allen said.

Allen said she is working with an exhibit design firm “on what the story is that needs to be told.”

When that job is done, “We will know where every case, light, electric plug-in, photograph and graphic display is to be,” she added.

Fabricators are building the larger exhibits and installing the extensive electronics necessary to make them function interactively. “It will probably take them about a year to do that,” Allen said of the exhibit building.

“They will bring them to the museums on flat-bed trucks. The rest will be built on site.”

The fabrication work will run parallel with the build-out phase that begins in 2015, according to Allen.

Before the opening a couple of thousand artifacts must be put into exhibit cases, each requiring a special mount, she said.

A mountain of work is ahead, but for Allen, Eley, Upchurch and others who have spent so much time getting the project to this point, a great amount of gratification will come with the Oct. 24 groundbreaking.

“Once they put the hole in the ground,” said Allen, some important stories will soon be told.



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