Bath museum gears up for $3M campus redesign

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BATH — The Maine Maritime Museum has piled up an array of accolades in recent years – being named one of “New England’s 10 Unmissable Historic Sites,” by Fodor’s Travel, and the best museum in Maine by USA Today, to name just a couple.

But while the offerings within its walls and along its Kennebec River campus owe much to that recognition, the museum’s front entrance and parking areas leave much to be desired in the eyes of people like Executive Director Amy Lent.

“You read all these accolades, and (say) ‘Maine Maritime Museum, we have to go see that,'” she said in an interview Feb. 27. “And then you drive down, and you get to the front, and you’re like, ‘really?'”

A campaign to raise the $3.3 million needed to redesign the front of the 5-acre main campus was $390,000 shy of its goal Feb. 27, with more gifts coming in each day, Lent said Feb. 27. Substantial work is to occur the next several months, with completion due next year in time for Maine’s bicentennial.

Dubbed “First Impressions” – due to the museum’s desire to offer patrons a better initial experience when arriving at the 243 Washington St. history hub – the project will tackle a variety of issues that have long plagued staffers and visitors alike.

Those include a lack of handicapped-accessible parking that is functional; front steps, curbs and parking lot surfaces that are deteriorating; a lack of a turning radius for buses; insufficient parking for large vehicles; and the absence of a connection between the museum’s north and south parking areas, causing more traffic to spill out onto Washington Street.

“The museum front was never built for how busy it is now,” Lent said of the 30-year-old building.

“Every year it starts to deteriorate more,” she continued. “It’s not even remotely at the same level of world-class that we strive to be, that the whole rest of the museum is.”

Lent wants to prepare neighbors for the shock of seeing most of the campus’s trees removed as the site is cleared as early as this week. She assured that more trees than are on site now will take their place, along with new shrubs and plants, all native to Maine.

“The whole experience is going to feel like Maine,” Lent said.

This fall will see the planting of 73 new trees, 2,078 shrubs, and 1,446 perennials and grasses. The new trees will reflect lumber used in traditional shipbuilding: cedar, larch, oak, and white pine.

Todd Richardson & Associates of Saco is the project’s landscape architect and Crooker Construction of Topsham the general contractor.

The museum will continue normal operations during the work, with parking redirected elsewhere on the campus as needed.

Work at the north parking area, directly in front of the museum, will be done first. A new arrival plaza, with the Kennebec River depicted in colored concrete slabs from Moosehead Lake down to the Atlantic Ocean, will be created outside the doors.

One of the major changes will be to the slope of the north parking lot, which now dips down about 25 feet from Washington Street and then about the same length up along the museum’s 16 steps. To level that grade to about 4 feet from street to entrance, eliminating the need for steps, Crooker will haul in 9,000 yards of fill – removed from the site of another of its projects, the future Morse High School at the Wing Farm business park.

“There are a lot of things that are exciting about this,” Lent said. “On the one surface level, it’s better parking. But what it really is, is completing this transformation of the museum over more than a decade, where we’ve done all these big projects.”

She referred to additions to the campus like of the life-sized evocation of the Wyoming, the largest wooden ship ever built in the U.S., a blacksmith shop and a lobster and lighthouse exhibit.

“This is part of a bigger, whole strategic plan for the museum, to become the world-class museum that it is,” Lent said. “But it’s not reflected in this first impression of the museum.

The south end parking area, now a dusty gravel lot that greets visitors as they disembark from cruise ships, will be paved with marked parking spots. A new garden will also provide a more welcoming experience, Lent noted.

While the amount of campus parking will remain about the same, the new, more efficient configurations will allow for more vehicles to park. Along with 146 spots, 12 of them handicapped accessible, there will be four designated spots for buses and RVs.

The south end of the campus will also feature a new garden, between Bath Iron Works and Snow Squall exhibit buildings, that honors Navy veterans and their families. There will also be a boardwalk approximately 180 feet in length that offers scenic views of the Kennebec River, marshlands and Doubling Point Light Station at the south end.

Two houses once stood between the north and south ends, and their removal in recent years after being purchased by the museum has facilitated one contiguous campus, with approximately 720 feet of frontage along Washington Street.

That area will have limited parking, next to a new wetland garden and lawn area.

The public will be able to access all of the green space at no charge, noted Katie Spiridakis, the museum’s marketing and communications manager.

“You can bring your lunch and come sit down by the river, and enjoy it,” she said. “You can bring your kids to run around.”

Interpretive signs will point out various landscape features, Spiridakis said. “Really, the museum experience starts before you even get to the front door,” she said.

With the planting going in this fall, the final coat of paving would go down next spring to complete the project, if the museum has the money in hand.

“If we can complete 100 percent of the fundraising, we’re just going to keep going,” Lent said. “… Otherwise we’re going to have to come back and then finish the rest of it, but of course, our goal is to be able to go all the way.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

A $3.3 million redesign of the front of the Maine Maritime Museum is slated to begin this year. Standing on steps scheduled for removal are, from left, Executive Director Amy Lent, Marketing and Communications Director Katie Spiridakis, and Trustee Terry Gray, who also chairs the museum’s Building and Grounds Committee.

The planned reconfiguration of the Maine Maritime Museum’s campus along Washington Street in Bath. Work is slated to begin this year.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.