Shell museum forging ahead with $6M renovation
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum on Sanibel is one step closer to breaking ground on an estimated $6 million renovation project announced earlier this year, which will include aquariums.
The Sanibel Planning Commission voted 5-0 on Oct. 9 to approve a conditional use permit to amend the site plan and allow for the remodeling and expansion of the museum, in addition to a development permit that implements the proposed construction activities and site improvements within the permit.
Commissioners Richard Johnson and Roger Grogman abstained from the vote due to their ties to museum’s capital campaign committee.
“The museum and the city of Sanibel have been working cooperatively on this project for several years,” Dorrie Hipschman, executive director of the museum, said on Oct. 19. “I think the unanimous approval is evidence of the excellent support and advice that we have received from all the city departments as we prepared this plan.”
According to a report from city staff, which recommended approval subject to 10 conditions, major building renovations were proposed that involved extensive remodeling and major site improvements.
“Building alterations will consist of interior and exterior remodeling, including the relocation of the entrance lobby and gift shop to the ground floor of the building and the conversion of existing storage areas into a new museum aquarium facility for the exhibition and study of live animals,” the report states. “Proposed site improvements include modifications to the visitor driveway and parking areas, conversion of some of the existing asphalt to pervious pavers, pedestrian and bicycle access improvements, alterations to the onsite stormwater retention system, and new landscaping.”
Staff noted that although the gross floor area of the building would remain essentially the same, the changes would add about 3,431 square feet of new floor area, for a total of 14,069 square feet.
Hipschman explained that the next step is filing plans with the building department.
“The museum is now working on securing the building permit,” she said. “Once approved, Benchmark Construction will mobilize and break ground – we hope by Thanksgiving.”
At the Annual Membership and Volunteer Appreciation luncheon in March, officials at the museum revealed the proposed plans to transform the venue and expand its research and educational reach.
The project will focus on three areas: renovating the facade of the building and the front entrance; introducing several new aquariums, or a living collection; and increasing exhibit and program space.
The entryway’s existing wooden staircase will be replaced with a two-story glass atrium.
Next, the museum will add a living collection on the ground level to go with its shell collection. Presently, there is a live tank in the Children’s Learning Lab and an 8-foot one on the ground floor. There will be 10 to 15 aquariums – from 100 to 1,000 gallons – and an extensive touch tank.
It will be the first aquarium in the world devoted solely to mollusks of all species and geographies. There will be local and non-local species, along with squid, octopus, cuttlefish and nudibranchs.
A new, state-of-the-art touch tank will provide hands-on educational programs for visitors.
With the welcome desk and retail store moving to the ground floor for the new entrance, the second floor will open up. For the project’s final focus, the museum will increase its exhibit space to emphasize current environmental issues and will use the area for flexible programming, even traveling exhibits.
Hipschman noted that there have been some changes since the initial plans were revealed.
“The only major change is that the entire ground floor will now be flood-proofed and air-conditioned for our visitors’ comfort and safety,” she said. “Our provisional goal for the project is still $6 million.”
“We are fundraising at the major gifts level,” Hipschman added.
Officials anticipated keeping the museum open for the public throughout the construction.
Back in March, Hipschman explained that the museum’s vision is to connect people to the natural world. By transferring that connection into a relationship with the animals that create the shells, it can change the perception of visitors about the natural world and connect them to the ocean and nature.
“The aquarium project will transform the museum’s ability to provide inspirational and memorable environmental education and teach ocean stewardship, leading to healthier beaches and oceans,” she said on Oct. 19.
The Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum is at 3075 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.