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Saturday, February 23 , 2019, 1:50 pm | Fair 36º


Commissioners Get Glimpse of Future for Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Draft master plan calls for significant upgrades to improve access and structural stability

It has been a community staple for the past 100 years, and now planners and advocates are trying to ensure the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is around for another 100. The museum’s draft master plan was brought before the city Planning Commission and Historic Landmarks Commission on Wednesday, and they got a glimpse of what might be in the future for the institution.

The plan has been in the works for three years, and the museum has hosted several community outreach workshops to garner feedback on the draft. It’s a badly needed outline that lays out goals for the future of the museum at 2559 Puesta del Sol.

The museum has been around a century, and much has changed in society — as well as the natural world — during that time, according to museum executive director Karl Hutterer.

“We need to figure out what the Natural History Museum is about at this time,” he said.

The reinvention of the museum is a daunting task. The museum is facing some big challenges, including a lack of emergency access. The Jesusita Fire came within a few thousand feet of the museum last summer, and the museum was “woefully unprotected,” Hutterer said.

Next, photos were shown of exposed wooden building frames that were badly deteriorated from termite damage. A lack of functionality in the existing buildings is a problem, because the buildings on the site were built in a time when things such as restroom standards weren’t around, as is access to the buildings.

“The scope of this project is truly enormous,” said Hutterer, adding that it would be a multigenerational effort to complete.

The buildings on the site were erected individually from 1895 to present, so they sit haphazardly across the property; several even protrude into the Mission Creek setback.

“We’ve paved the creek bank,” said project architect Walter Schacht of Schacht Aslani Architects, adding that many of the site’s characteristics would never be allowed today.

Removing a majority of the buildings was one of the biggest changes of the plan, but the historic core of the museum would be preserved. The historic MacVeagh house also would be protected and relocated on the western part of the property. The footprint of the museum would increase only 11 percent with the new plan, to 124,000 square feet from 82,000.

A rendering depicts the proposed after look for the paved pathway between Santa Barbara Natural History Museum buildings and Mission Creek.
Rendering depicts the proposed “after” look for the same paved pathway. (Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History courtesy illustration)

Improving the access of the museum was also a key concern. Schacht showed a plan that had a large loop circulating around the museum for fire access. The entrance for visitors also holds a big change: Visitors could turn left off of Mission Canyon onto Puesta Del Sol to access the front of the museum, instead of driving through the neighborhood, as it is now.

Planner Suzanne Elledge said Wednesday that the museum wasn’t asking for an increase in capacity that’s outlined by the museum’s conditional-use permit. It hasn’t filed its application for all of these changes yet, but when it does, it will include a development agreement from the city, because it could take many years for the project to come to fruition. An agreement for annexation of the western portion of the property also will be requested, because the county owns that half, while the city owns the other portion.

Eleven public speakers came forward, many soundly supporting the educational mission of the museum — 29,000 schoolchildren per year visit the museum.

“We look forward to your support and collaboration as we move forward,” Santa Barbara School District Superintendent Brian Sarvis told the commissioners.

The commissioners shared concerns about the size and architecture of the building, and access off of Mission Canyon Road, among others, but all were supportive of the museum.

“We look forward to continuing to support you,” Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said, “so we can improve on this very important treasure to the community.”

Click here for more information about the plan.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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