Province pledges to modernize Royal B.C. Museum

The provincial government has committed to modernizing the Royal B.C. Museum, acknowledging that its collection of seven million artifacts is imperilled by buildings that need repair and that are at risk of being heavily damaged in an earthquake.

As a first step, it issued a job posting this week for a chief project officer who would craft a plan to address the museum’s physical shortcomings.

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And Tuesday’s throne speech, outlining government priorities, had this promise: “Government will modernize the Royal B.C. Museum, to protect its historic holdings and provide better access to its collections.”

Scope of the work has not been determined and no money commitments have been made.

The museum complex, at 675 Belleville St., has 10 buildings on 2.6 hectares. It is home to the Provincial Archives, the largest known collection of artist Emily Carr’s work and a large collection of First Nations artifacts.

Most buildings are rated as being at “high seismic risk, requiring urgent repair or replacement, and the overall facility condition of the portfolio is fair to poor,” the job posting said.

The museum is short of storage space to safely house its collections, specimens and archival materials.

“Redevelopment of the museum, more specifically the exhibition building, Fannin Tower and the Archives provides an opportunity to address the serious seismic, safety and environmental risks threatening the preservation and protection of B.C.’s heritage,” the posting said.

Museum officials have previously highlighted concerns about the potential impact on precious collections if there was a major flood in the basement of the main building. They’ve also expressed concern about the lack of proper storage space.

Questions from the Times Colonist to the museum were referred to the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture. The museum reports to that ministry. The province contributes $11.8 million annually to the museum.

The Tourism Ministry issued a statement Friday saying: “The majority of the museum’s facilities were built in 1967 and as with many buildings of that time, they do not meet today’s standards for seismic performance. RBCM and Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture are working together to develop a business case for further government consideration and decisions.”

According to the job posting, the project officer would start work March 18 and the business case would be submitted to the province on Oct. 31. The work is expected to take 750 hours.

Museum officials have long sought a major upgrade.

In 2010, the museum’s manager of human history stood amid cramped storage space and said: “Everybody is bursting at the seams.”

Then-chief executive Pauline Rafferty spearheaded a plan to rezone the site to expand and enhance the facility. The site was rezoned in 2011 with plans to dismantle the 14-storey museum and archives buildings and build two towers of 12 and 14 storeys.

But that proposal was shelved and the museum has carried out other improvements, such as remodelling the lobby.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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