B&O officials say museum repairs on track for November reopening

Renovated roundhouse, new additions in works

February 18, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

At a private event held to thank their top donors, B&O Railroad Museum officials said yesterday the museum will reopen on Nov. 13 - 634 days after a roof collapse forced it to close.

"It's the moment everyone has been waiting for," Courtney B. Wilson, B&O executive director, said yesterday, the one-year anniversary of the storied roundhouse sustaining extensive damage after a record snowstorm.

Inside a tent set up in the parking lot, Wilson and other B&O officials said the refurbished museum will feature a new entrance, exhibition gallery and living history center.

The circular roundhouse, a 45,000-square-foot national landmark, is being reconstructed to look they way it originally did, but with structural upgrades. A restoration shop is also being built so the museum can repair locomotives damaged by the roof's collapse.

Wilson said the entire project will cost nearly $30 million and that two-thirds will be paid by insurance. The museum's fund-raising efforts are halfway to meeting their goal, with $5.1 million to go to help cover the work.

A President's Day weekend storm last year blanketed the region and the lower roof buckled under the weight of snow drifts, falling in on the B&O's prized and fragile exhibits.

"I don't think any of us will quite forget," Jim Brady, chairman of the museum's board of directors, said yesterday. "It was quite amazing."

The roof began to collapse late on Feb. 16, and its breakdown continued into the early hours of the next day. It fell in three sections - a right side, a left side, then a middle piece - until one large area was gone.

Twenty-two railcars and locomotives and hundreds of railroading trinkets and artifacts were damaged or destroyed. But because the roof fell overnight when no one was inside or nearby, no one was injured.

An engineering report commissioned by the museum blamed the 120-year-old roundhouse's roof collapse on the structural design by famed Baltimore architect Ephraim Francis Baldwin. Baldwin's family and a historian countered saying the B&O was unfairly using Baldwin as a scapegoat.

Wilson disputed speculation that the museum knew the roof was faulty but refused to do anything about it. He said the roundhouse, which originally had been a railcar shop, had never been inspected during the museum's 50-year history.

The B&O, which had been trying to boost its image and customer appeal before the collapse, also lost a huge tourism opportunity because of the damage. The museum was to have played host last summer to the Fair of the Iron Horse, an international railroading festival. But the event, expected to boost the museum back to national prominence, had to be canceled.

As museum officials took donors and members of the media on tours to show progress, work continued on the roof. The lower roof has been replaced and workers are now replacing the upper roof and reinstalling the signature cupola.

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