Architects propose burying museum to reduce its impact on historic Harpers Ferry

November 02, 2007|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - OK, so you have a four-part, $250 million museum you want to build on a high hill near Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Park officials, however, are aghast over how it will impact the historic area.

What's an architect to do?

Rip off the top of the hill.

"Our proposal is to take the four components, scrape the top of the hill off, build the components and then put the hill back over the building," Douglas Carter of Davis Carter Scott Architecture told the Jefferson County Commission on Thursday.

If that doesn't impress you, maybe how the building's designers plan to heat and cool it will.

Given its hilltop location and breezy conditions, wind turbines will be used to generate power and a "wind chimney" at the top of the building will draw naturally cool air from "cooling wells" within the ground, Carter said.

Combine that with other features like a tramway to take visitors up to the museum, and Carter said designers of the building want to take tourists "into a different century, a different era and a totally different environment."


About five people involved in the development of a proposed National Park Service museum near Harpers Ferry told the commissioners how the idea evolved.

The museum project proposed for at least 500 acres, including the former Old Standard Quarry, follows another $250 million office and hotel project for the quarry property.

The latter project was controversial because some people felt it was too close to the local national park, among other concerns, and the commission ended up nixing a land-use designation change that would have allowed the project.

Now the development team of Stonewall Heights LLC is proposing the museum that officials with the group and local officials said could be a boon to the county's tourism industry.

The National Park Service has been thinking about having a museum to house its artifacts - some of which have not been seen by the public - and when focus turned to the quarry as a possibility, project officials began looking at a natural "saddle" that existed in the Bolivar Heights area, Carter said.

But National Park Service officials were worried about how the project would affect the natural area, Carter said.

Project designers decided they would hide the museum in the hillside by removing the top of it, building the two-story structure, then covering it with dirt, Carter said.

Trees also will be planted on top of the facility to hide it, Carter said.

Carter said he has been involved in designing buildings that meet standards of the U.S. Green Building Council, a community of leaders who are working to transform the design of buildings that help establish a healthy environment.

Carter said he just finished completing a federal Environmental Protection Agency facility that earned a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for its design.

For the museum, designers hope to attain a higher platinum certification.

"There are a lot of ideas that go beyond anything the U.S. Green Building Council already recognizes. We'd like to do that," Carter said.

Commissioner Rusty Morgan gave the proposal a glowing endorsement.

"I'm personally, absolutely in love with this project. I think it makes a statement for about the next 100 years about how we're going to develop as a community," Morgan said.

Morgan said he is concerned about Stonewall Heights being able to pull it off because sometimes such lofty projects can fail.

Bradley Gray, spokesman for the Stonewall Heights group, said the commissioners can help by expressing their support. That support is necessary because project officials need a partnership with Congress to make it work, Gray said.

Stonewall Heights is proposing to build the museum and lease it to the park service. What officials are waiting on is if U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., can secure federal funding for the museum.

To help put Morgan at ease over his concerns, Gray pointed to members of the Stonewall Heights group, who have specialized in projects like the renovations to the White House and citing power plants.

"This is a world-class team in front of you," Gray said.

Commissioner Dale Manuel re-emphasized the importance of keeping the museum property on the county's tax rolls - which the developers have promised - and the commission passed a resolution of support stating the importance of the property staying on tax rolls.

Commissioner Greg Corliss said he was concerned about the quality of jobs from the museum. Gray said his group has not completed any economic impact studies, but he said museums are generally a magnet for jobs.

In terms of tourism potential, Gray said he thinks the museum will get up to 1 million visitors a year.

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