The renovation of our conservation lab has provided us with an opportunity to transform our working environment into a flexible workspace that can be adjusted to the various projects entering the lab. This post will discuss why the conservation lab is being renovated and provide an update on the current state of the project. A future post will include before and after photos, feature some of our ideas on how to maximize space, and discuss a few of the customized features we’ve incorporated.
Much has changed since the Preservation Department was established in 1984 with 3 full-time employees. We have significantly expanded the scope of our preservation and conservation activities, and as a result the department has grown to 14 staff members, most of whom work either full or part-time in the conservation lab. The work currently being done in the lab is a mix of single item treatment, general collections care, conservation research, exhibits preparation, large rehousing projects, and treatment of oversize items. With only 6 built-in workbenches and 1 large communal table, staff had to share workspace on a regular basis, with little possibility of reconfiguring the space for special projects. Due to high demand and the lack of communal space, the large table needed to be reserved. This led to multiple large scale projects that needed to be carefully coordinated and sometimes resulted in project delays. The lab no longer functioned for the work we were doing.
Susan Russick and I conducted an assessment of the lab space in the spring of 2012. In that report, several items were noted that needed to be addressed: modifying the workbenches, creating a permanent space for scientific equipment, increasing storage, and improving the space for chemical and wet treatment.
We began working with an architect and University Facilities on the scope and design of the lab space in late 2013. Construction began in January 2015. We were fortunate to gain 260 square feet from an adjoining office; it was a modest but very welcome addition to the lab. Our biggest challenge was to find a way to maximize the flexibility and storage capacity of the additional space we had been allotted. To that end, we created an open concept lab. By removing 2 walls, we opened the space considerably. The old photo documentation room will become a space for large equipment and the old dirty room will be incorporated into the new wet area. The redesigned wet area will allow staff to fully utilize the space by having adjacency to the large communal table and to the fume hood. An additional vent hood over the washing sink will allow us to safely use solvents in that area.
In order to move oversize supplies and objects into the lab, we have increased the width of the door. It was important to us that the entrance doors included large glass panels. We wanted to showcase the work being done in the lab and make the space more inviting and less hidden from public view.
To use conservation terminology, we are currently in the ‘during’ phase of renovation. In the coming weeks, new workbenches will be installed, the additional office space will be finished, and storage areas will be reconfigured. Our goal is to have the renovation complete in July 2015.