The Bruce Museum has filed plans with the town of Greenwich for a 39,593-square-foot building expansion in what would be the 104-year-old institution’s first renovations in more than two decades.
The proposed development would more than double the museum’s existing 29,639-square-foot space on its roughly 6-acre lot at 1 Museum Drive.
Museum officials said the project is needed to accommodate the growing demand on the museum and strengthen its position as a cultural destination.
Formerly owned by textile merchant Robert Moffat Bruce, the house and land were deeded to the town in 1908 with a stipulation from Bruce that it be used as “a natural history, historical and art museum for the benefit of the public.” Managed by nonprofit organization Bruce Museum Inc., the museum mounts 12 to 14 shows and presents 1,200 educational programs to about 100,000 visitors annually.
“It certainly attracts people to Greenwich,” Greenwich First Selectman Peter J. Tesei said, adding that the museum is “a real gem for the town.”
Museum officials this summer told town selectmen the Bruce has seen a 20 percent increase in visitors in the past year. The museum is exceeding capacity for its programming and does not have enough space to display its permanent collection of nearly 16,500 objects, they said.
Last renovated in 1992, the museum’s physical constraints limit the services it can provide, Bruce Museum Executive Director Peter C. Sutton told the Greenwich Board of Selectmen in July.
“If we are to continue to be a world-class, community-based museum, I think we need some more space,” Sutton said.
The renovations will provide a new lower level and a repositioned entrance to the museum and will also expand on-site parking to 102 spaces. Additional gallery, storage and office space will also be constructed. The plans include new permanent exhibition and teaching spaces, a lecture hall and visitor amenities including a cafe, larger gift store and reception hall.
With the expansions, museum officials said they will be able to double the number of programs offered and reach twice as many children. Sutton said the expansion would raise the museum’s capacity to 150,000 to 200,000 visitors per year.
“The expansion will provide an opportunity for some of the really renowned exhibits and collections to be on display more regularly,” Tesei said. “Right now with the limited space, there’s an inability to showcase some of these collections that have been given to the museum.”
The Greenwich Board of Selectmen approved the proposed expansion as a municipal improvement and referred museum plans to the town planning and zoning commission. Though the property is owned by the town, the Bruce “abides by the same regulations that a private property owner would,” Tesei said.
Sandra van Boetzelaer, the museum’s director of marketing and communications, said the Bruce is “keen on letting the regulatory process unfold itself” and hopes to have preliminary approvals for the project in the coming months.
Sutton at the town board meeting declined to disclose the expansion project’s estimated cost. Through the museum’s spokesperson, he declined to discuss the expansion project this month with the Business Journal.
Funding will come largely from private sources, said Bruce Cohen, an attorney at Fogarty Cohen Russo & Nemiroff LLC in Old Greenwich representing the museum. Regarding the cost of renovations, “We don’t know fully what it’s going to be because the plans haven’t been completed in sufficient detail to actually bid them out,” he said.
Cohen said a fundraising campaign is underway and has been successful so far in attracting public support.