Town Commission Approves Permit for Gallery Quad

The proposed design of the 14,000 square-foot exhibit hall celebrates the craftsmanship of wooden ships. Image courtesy of Centerbrook Architects and Planners/Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture

The proposed design of the 14,000 square-foot exhibit hall celebrates the craftsmanship of wooden ships. Image courtesy of Centerbrook Architects and Planners/Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture

The Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved Mystic Seaport’s plan to build a new exhibit hall and make numerous improvements to the grounds on the north end of the Museum. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year and be completed in the spring of 2016.

“This is a milestone in the history of Mystic Seaport as we re-position the Museum for the 21st century,” said Mystic Seaport President Steve White. “This project will transform what we can offer to the public in the scale and quality of our exhibits and how visitors experience the Museum.”

The new indoor space will create a better defined and connected winter visitor experience. Image courtesy of Centerbrook Architects and Planners/Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture

The new building will house an alternative entrance for visitors, a lobby, a retail shop, restrooms, and meeting and staff spaces. Image courtesy of Centerbrook Architects and Planners/Kent+Frost Landscape Architecture

The Gallery Quad, as it has come to be called, has been in the planning stages for more than a decade and is a comprehensive re-envisioning of the north end of the grounds. The project includes a 14,000 square-foot building just south of Latitude 41° Restaurant. The building will house a state-of-the-art, 5,000 square-foot exhibit hall and a new entrance and retail space.

In addition to the new building, the grounds around what is now Anchor Circle will be reconfigured as a quadrangle. The outdoor improvements are intended to create a better-defined celebration space for Mystic Seaport and community events, and to create better access to the existing galleries around the perimeter. It will also open up views of the Mystic River from Route 27 and present a more inviting entrance experience as people arrive into town.

The project will require the removal of 30,000 square feet of existing building space, including the Museum’s G.W. Blunt White Building, the North Boat Shed, and the former boiler house that houses the Benjamin F. Packard ship’s cabin exhibit. The Packard exhibit will be moved and reopened on the second floor of the Stillman Building.

Mystic Seaport will also make improvements to the Stillman Building and R.J. Schaefer Exhibit Hall to facilitate the installation of two new exhibitions. “Voyaging in the Wake of the Whalers” will open in the ground floor of the Stillman Building (replacing the current “Voyagers” exhibit) in late spring 2015. Using artifacts and artwork, along with compelling audio-visual elements and immersive displays, the exhibition will provide insight into America’s historic and contemporary relationship with whales and whaling. It will also tell the story of the 38th Voyage of the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan this past summer. “Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude,” a traveling exhibit from the United Kingdom’s National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, will open in the R.J. Schaefer Exhibit Hall in September 2015. The exhibition tells the dramatic human story of John Harrison and his forty-year obsession with building his perfect timekeeper for sailors, known today as the chronometer.

As part of the Museum’s commitment to environmental stewardship, the project infrastructure includes a comprehensive stormwater drainage system that will treat all runoff before it enters the Mystic River, as well as energy efficient geo-thermal heating and cooling for the new building.

Mystic Seaport will also carry out a traffic study around the north entrance on Route 27 as part of the town’s approval. The study will analyze usage patterns and propose any recommended improvements to promote pedestrian and vehicular safety and impacts on nearby residents.

The project is being designed by Centerbrook Architects and Planners of Centerbrook, Conn., who recently renovated the Ocean House in Watch Hill, R.I., and Kent + Frost Landscape Architecture of Mystic, Conn. Construction will be managed by A/Z Corporation of North Stonington, Conn.