News Column

Museum makeover: Fundraising campaign launched for city flood facility

May 23, 2014

By Randy Griffith, The Tribune-Democrat, Johnstown, Pa.

May 23--JOHNSTOWN -- Next week's 125th anniversary of the Great Johnstown Flood provides the launching pad for a major fundraising campaign to completely update the Johnstown Flood Museum.

The campaign was given a roaring start with a $750,000 grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation of Pittsburgh, Mark Pasquerilla, Johnstown Area Heritage Association chairman, said Thursday during a press conference at the museum.

"As far as we know, this is the biggest grant they have given outside their traditional area of Westmoreland and, of course, Allegheny counties," Pasquerilla said. "We are counting on the community's support as the campaign continues."

Organizers have set a goal of $3.45 million, Pasquerilla said.

The flood museum's exhibits will be upgraded with technology that will allow for regular updates and new features to keep the attraction vibrant for a new generation, said Paul Rosenblatt, a principal partner with Springboard Design of Pittsburgh.

"This exhibit will be able to evolve with the times," Rosenblatt said.

The current displays have been in place since the 1989 flood centennial renovation project. There was no vision of ever changing it, JAHA President and CEO Richard Burkert said.

"They were creating a monument to the flood," Burkert said, noting that labels were permanently silkscreened on displays.

"It has really constrained us," he continued. "It has been difficult to change."

Springboard has been part of numerous museum and cultural facility projects in the Pittsburgh area. The company has learned a lot about how people experience museums, Rosenblatt said, citing its work with the 2011 "Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story" exhibit at Carnegie Museum of Art.

"Different visitors learn and experience things in different ways," Rosenblatt said. "We try to include features for all of them. Some like to read exhibits. Some don't like to read. Some folks want to sit and ponder and think about things."

Plans call for upgrades to traditional favorites, including the 3-D, path-of-the-flood map that greets visitors on the museum's ground floor, Rosenblatt said. New digital controls and fiber optic lights for the map will be complemented with a multimedia program featuring screenshots from a recent study showing new information.

Additional upgrades will allow visitors to explore individual stories of the flood from recordings of interviews with survivors. In addition, the museum's vast archives will become available digitally.

"Imagine touch screens throughout the exhibit, with different features for different age groups," Rosenblatt said.

Much of the 1989 technology used in the original exhibits has reached the end of its useful life. What's more, the heating, electrical system and other infrastructure of the 122-year-old former Carnegie Library building has also become inefficient and costly.

CJL Engineering is designing new systems with renovations to include heating, ventilation, air conditioning, lighting, windows, doors, entrance and greeting area, signage and a third-floor meeting area.

New technology will not only make it a green building under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, but it will do the job with less ductwork and equipment, freeing space for exhibits and programs, James J. Carthew, CJL project manager, said at the museum.

Renovations are expected to cost $2.4 million and will begin next year, Burkert said.

Another $750,000 will create a reserve fund for the museum for future maintenance and for continuous updates of the exhibit.

The final $300,000 will launch a regional tourist promotion campaign and upgrade the JAHA website. The idea is to create a single point for potential visitors to know what Johnstown has to offer, he said.

Dale Oxygen of Johnstown and its owners, the Bennear family, helped launch the fundraising campaign with a $25,000 donation to commemorate the company's 75th anniversary.

"It is a history we are required to uphold," company President Harry Bennear said. "The flood museum reflects the history of Johnstown and how people of Johnstown keep coming back."

Randy Griffith is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at


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Source: Tribune-Democrat (Johnstown, PA)