Burke Museum will continue construction with loan from University of Washington

Construction on the new Burke Museum will continue until at least the end of October, now that the University of Washington has provided the state museum with a bridge loan.

The University of Washington is coming to the rescue of the state’s natural history museum, offering the Burke Museum a short-term loan so construction of its new building can keep going even with its state funding in limbo.

The loan buys the project three more months of construction time, allowing contractors to finish the exterior and install major building systems. That will create “a more logical stopping point should we need to pause construction in the fall,” said museum director Julie Stein.

Last month, the museum thought it might have to stop construction immediately after the Legislature failed to pass a capital projects budget for 2017-19. The Democratic-controlled House and GOP-controlled Senate were unable to come to a deal on a rural water-use bill last month, and Senate Republicans stood firm on a pledge not to pass a two-year capital construction budget without first fixing the water-use issue.

With the loan — backed by $14 million in private donations that have been pledged over the next three to five years — construction will be able to continue through October.

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The museum building is about two-thirds complete, and the Burke needs $24 million to finish the project. The state has the money; it’s budgeted in the stalled $4 billion capital improvements bill. The 2018 legislative session is scheduled to begin Jan. 8, and a special session before that date appears unlikely.

The existing Burke was constructed on the cheap in the 1960s, and has no central air conditioning or climate controls. It’s a poor environment for the natural history museum’s many treasures, including priceless Native American art such as baskets, drums and canoes. Although located on the UW campus, the Burke is a state-owned museum, run by the university.

Turning the museum “inside out”

Last week, Stein, its director, toured the shell of the new museum in hard hat and boots, showing how the new building will help accomplish a major goal: to put more of the behind-the-scenes work of preservation and curation in front of visitors.

Bringing the science and curation work to the fore is a trend among museums around the country. In art museums, paintings are sometimes restored while…

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