The Taft Museum of Art’s Bicentennial Infrastructure Project, undertaken to conserve our historic house, has completed its first phase. The HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) system of the 2004 building has been updated to provide a specific controlled environment for art exhibited in the Fifth Third Gallery. In a later phase, once structural renovations are completed on the historic house, that HVAC system will also be updated for the long-term safekeeping of the Taft’s permanent collection— including the Robert S. Duncanson murals, which are painted on 200-year-old plaster.
The Taft’s previous HVAC system had become an aging on/off system with limited controls. The new HVAC control software is custom-designed for the Taft with a multizone system to address the complexity of the museum’s galleries, which are located in two connected buildings—dating from 1820 and 2004, respectively— and its offices and public areas. The museum is now able to set temperatures for specific spaces and zones; monitor all spaces, including the critical zones containing art storage and the galleries; and track trends and data. The multizone HVAC system is equipped with fans that provide a flat line of consistent temperatures in the critical zones. Individual zones can be controlled specifically to save energy when not in use without impacting the consistent air temperatures needed to safeguard artworks. After experts completed an inspection and commissioning of the new HVAC units, the system has been proven to meet exacting museum temperature requirements for gallery display and art storage, as well as the required museum environmental standards set by the American Institute of Conservation and sanctioned by the American Alliance of Museums.
Although the installation schedule for the new HVAC system was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, thanks to our wonderful partners and team members work was resumed in July. The design team included Heapy Engineering; GBBN architects; HGC Construction; DeBra-Kuempel; and the Taft’s Director of Operations Nick DeCourcy, Facility and IT Manager Sara Stone, and the Buildings and Grounds Committee of the Taft board, chaired by Chris Habel. We are grateful for Taft board member, Earl Messer’s assistance with our construction contracts. Steps in the physical process of installing the new HVAC units included welding supports on the 2004 building’s roof to support a temporary HVAC unit and bringing in a crane to remove the old HVAC unit and place the new units onto the roof. Intermediate processes involved making and testing pipe, gas, duct and electrical connections. By August 26, the two new rooftop HVAC units had been installed and started. On September 8, after a week of operating and monitoring the new system, the temporary unit was removed.
With the HVAC commissioning now complete in the 2004 building, the museum’s short-term capacity to move forward with the next phase of the Bicentennial Infrastructure Project is strengthened. The process ofplanning and implementing the installation of the new HVAC system provided the project team with the meeting, planning, and organizational structure necessary for the more complex and detailed phase of the project, which is centered on rehabilitation of the historic house. Now, the Taft is poised to progress to the next phase to fulfill our long-term capacity goal of ensuring the longevity of the historic house, as well as fulfill the museum’s mission of connecting people with great art through community access to the museum and its collection for many decades to come.