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Art Museum expansion officially underway

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(photo by Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
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St. Louis County executive Charlie Dooley (second from right), Mayor Francis Slay (third from right) and other dignitaries officially break ground on the expansion of the St. Louis Art Museum

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – Local dignitaries and officials with the St. Louis Art Museum gathered in Forest Park Tuesday to officially start the Museum's $130 million expansion, the most significant expansion in its history.

Contractors began preliminary work on the project in December, after a year-long delay caused by the slumping economy.

Museum director Brent Benjamin called the official start on construction of the new wing, designed by architect David Chipperfield, a "momentous day." The project includes a new 300-car underground garage, doubling the museum's current parking capacity, and 80,000 square feet of new exhibition space and other public space.

Most importantly, Chipperfield said, the new wing solves some of the infrastructure problems with the old museum, which was originally designed as an art pavilion for the 1904 World's Fair and hence lacks the storage space of some museums.

The museum's location, on one of the highest points in Forest Park, also played a large role in Chipperfield's design.

"Maybe slightly more than this building," Chipperfield said, referring to the historic Cass Gilbert building, "the expansion offers more enjoyment of the views out of the building, to give more views into the building, to make the museum as a complex slightly more open. The idea of the new building as a pavilion, flooded with top light, with windows looking out is really to take advantage of the park and its position."

Construction has forced the museum to close some galleries, and classes and the cafe are in temporary locations. But museum director Brent Benjamin promised that some of the museum's most important features will not change.

"Throughout the expected two years of construction, the Art Museum is committed to remaining open and will continue to offer free general admissions, exhibitions, and general education programs," Benjamin said.

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