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Pandemic Curtails Huge Smithsonian Expansion


By Dan Hounsell Design & Construction
The Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C.

No facility market has escaped fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. From healthcare and education facilities to hotels and commercial office buildings, the pandemic has forced maintenance and engineering managers to revamp and rethink nearly every aspect of their operations. For one of the most high-profile victims, the result has been to scale back a huge roster of expansion plans.

The Smithsonian Institution’s eye-popping $2 billion expansion plan included an ambitious expansion of its 19th-century red administration building, the Castle, that would have added dining, retail and restrooms, and new National Mall-facing entrances to the National Museum of African Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the concept designs for its south campus were unveiled with great fanfare in 2014, according to The New York Times.

Recently, though, the organization said its master plan would no longer include any of those elements and had been revised to focus on restorations to the interior and exterior of the Castle, and interior and underground improvements to the Arts and Industries Building.

The changes to the master plan were the evolutionary process that resulted from him “coming in and asking certain questions,” according to one Smithsonian official. But the Smithsonian’s finances have taken a hit during the pandemic. The institute lost $49 million between March and September from coronavirus-related closures, and it jettisoned plans to open its first overseas exhibition space in London in partnership with the Victoria and Albert Museum in September.

Dan Hounsell is editor of Facility Maintenance Decisions.

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