Suffolk Historical Society seeks expansion to improve 83-year-old building

SUFFOLK COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY COURTESY PHOTO | The new wing at the Suffolk County Historical Society shown in this photo illustration will be handicap accessible and is expected to cost between $750,000 and $1 million.

The Suffolk County Historical Society, keeper of over 20,000 artifacts from the county’s past, is putting together plans to launch a fundraising campaign to pay for a new addition to its 83-year-old building.

The addition, which will include two handicapped-accessible bathrooms, an elevator and a new orientation space, will comply with regulations set by the Americans with Disabilities Act and make the entire building more accessible to all who wish to visit.

Director Kathy Curran said the board always knew the building needed to be more friendly to people with disabilities or ailments, but the issue became truly apparent during an exhibit this past February.

The show honored Lee Hayes, a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen, the country’s first African-American aviators. The opening reception included a conversational interview with Mr. Hayes and a photo exhibit of the airmen. The event generated one of the biggest turnouts the museum has ever had — and as Mr. Hayes is now in his 90s, the exhibit drew a good number of older folk.

“There were a lot of elderly people who attended and we had to help so many up and down the stairs throughout the day,” Ms. Curran explained. “The board members physically saw right in front of their eyes how much we needed this.”

The society is now looking for corporate sponsorships, working on grant writing and asking for donations. The estimated cost of the project is between $750,000 and $1 million, but the exact number won’t be known until the final plans are drawn up and a contractor’s bid is selected. The society hopes to pay for the work outright and expects the plans to be finished by the end of the year.

Riverhead architect Gary Jacquemin was chosen for the project, and the board members picked their favorite from his five different conceptual designs. Mr. Jacquemin is currently working on preliminary plans, and will work on them full-time once more funding is secured.

“I want it [the addition] to signal the rebirth of the activities within the building,” Mr. Jacquemin said. “The historical society has a new director, new board members, some new policies. We also want the addition to reflect the revitalization of downtown Riverhead as a whole.”

Though the existing building dates from 1930, Ms. Curran said museum officials aren’t focused on having the new wing blend in.

“We want to have 21st-century architecture added onto the historic building site,” she said.

“The addition will acknowledge and be respectful of the standing building,” Mr. Jacquemin said. “It will be lightweight and connect to the original building with bridges with skylights above them. We’re not trying to upstage the current building. The board and I are big believers that new buildings should not try to replicate history and that the older building should be the one that remains historic.”

Bob Barauskas, president of the museum’s board of trustees, said that although planning for the addition began a year and a half ago, construction will probably not be completed for another two years.

“I’m very optimistic,” he said. “I came onto the board in 2008 and we’ve just gained so much momentum in the last two years. I’m very excited about the direction we’re going in.”

When asked if the added wing will help increase revenue, Mr. Barauskas responded with a firm, “Of course.”

“People have asked me many times about having handicapped-accessible options,” he said. “There’s just so much that it will offer.”

“We see this as another part of the revitalization of Riverhead as a cultural center,” Ms. Curran added. “With the library, the science museum, the theaters and the aquarium all on our block, we are situated on a little cultural corridor.”

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