Museum of Comparative Zoology Plans for Expansion to Northwest Labs
As the Museum of Comparative Zoology staff prepares to move 80,000 mammal specimens—and a few live humans, too—into larger facilities in the Northwest Science Building, employees say they are going to miss the old-world character of their current building on Oxford St., which is over 120 years old.
“[There is a] historic, charismatic charm...desks in the corner, squeaky floors, Agassiz cabinets with glass doors,” reflected Hopi Hoekstra, Curator of Mammalogy. She added, however, that “while they’re very charming, they’re not bug-proof.”
When the move begins in January, the new walk-in freezers and carbon dioxide room in Northwest will help prevent pests from threatening the Museum’s dry specimens. Within the next year, 12 to 15 million of these specimens will move to Northwest, according to James Hanken, director of the MCZ.
Specimen protection is only one of the advantages of the move, which was approved in the spring of 2010.
Climate control—which was lacking in the old building—will also improve conservation efforts.
Totaling nearly 50,000 square feet of space in the Northwest basement, the new facilities also include classrooms and preparation labs.
Although MCZ will not vacate its old building entirely, Hanken said he looks forward to using space more efficiently. Northwest can accommodate high-capacity movable shelves, a feature that was impossible in the old building due to the limited weight bearing capacity of its floors.
The expansion should accommodate acquisition of new specimens for at least 10 years, according to Hoekstra.
“That’s what keeps the museum lively,” she said of adding to the collection, which has grown to more than 20 million specimens over the last 150 years.
Renovation is unfolding in two phases, and phase one is nearly complete.
“The rooms are there, the lights are on, the floors are polished, the water runs,” Hanken said. “The new space...may come across as sterile. It’s so spanking clean—right angles, everything works. Certainly not like this old building, which has stood the test of time.”
Relocation, however, will not begin until next year, following the delivery of new metal cabinets later this fall. These cabinets will eventually house MCZ’s entire collection of mammals—including hundreds of thousands of skeletons, thousands of stuffed skins, and furs, pelts, and hides. The mammals will be joined by mollusks, snail shells, birds, and fossils following the completion of phase two next summer.
The museum is currently reorganizing and cataloguing its collection to prepare for the move, said Hoekstra, but the process has forced MCZ to reduce the number of specimens it loans out to other museums.
How the Oxford St. space that MCZ empties will be utilized is currently undecided, Hanken said, but some space may be allocated to the Organismic and Evolutionary Biology department.
“[There is] a lot of competition for space in this part” of campus, he said.
MCZ’s public exhibitions, which are located in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, will be unaffected by the move.
—Staff writer Radhika Jain can be reached at email@example.com.