N.B. Museum's designs include crosswalks, rooftop cafe

The New Brunswick Museum's new 130,000 square-foot expansion will be integrated into the neighbourhood, the city and the province, according to the architecture firm behind the design.

The museum expansion project on Douglas Avenue came to the city's planning advisory committee Wednesday, where it gave its recommendation in favour of rezoning and changes to the city's municipal plan bylaws. Representatives of the museum and architects Diamond Schmitt updated the board on plans for the project, which the committee heard will include updates to crosswalks, an extension of the Harbour Passage and a rooftop cafe with views of Reversing Falls.

"The proposed expansion aligns with the city's long-term vision for Douglas Avenue and ... will bring significant public benefits including improved pedestrian infrastructure and expanded public transit options," museum board chair Tracy Clinch told the committee. "We believe in open communication and transparency, and we're committed to being good neighbours, providing regular updates throughout this process."

The project requires rezoning for six properties to "major community facility" from "mixed-rise residential," which are in the process of being acquired by the province for demolition. The museum has agreed to designate the 1934 structure as a heritage building, as well as the facade of the King George Hall on the west side.

The public benefits agreement also includes a cost-sharing agreement on new lighted crosswalks, an agreement to provide two covered transit stops and extend the Harbour Passage to pass the museum, planner Jennifer Kirchner told the committee.

The museum needs a variance to reduce the amount of required parking, but the 75-spot lot will be provided as a snow-ban lot to residents, Kirchner said, and staff will park at the nearby Lancaster Avenue building where the museum plans to continue to operate.

At the meeting, Donald Schmitt, principal for architects Diamond Schmitt, introduced the project team, including project architect Emily Baxter, and unveiled a scale model of the proposed design.

"For this museum to be really successful, it needs to work on three scales," Schmitt said, including fitting in with the heritage neighbourhood around it, as a fixture of the city and as a provincial institution.

It includes four wings clad in glazed terracotta with boarding textured to emulate other buildings, as well as the "heritage wing," or the existing museum structure.

"That's almost kind of an artifact itself, and we're totally restoring that," Schmitt told Brunswick News. "The new wing, we're not trying to make a Disneyland where we're doing a historic replica. What we're doing is developing a scale to the wings ... that has the same proportion."

Each wing is the same proportion as the portico of the original building, he said, and a central corridor allows light to pass through from the west and east sides of the building.

"You're looking out on portage routes, you're looking out at flora and fauna, you're looking out at the landscape," Schmitt said. "I think it all breaks down the mass of 130,000 square feet, but sort of unites it as sort of a place."

Schmitt told the committee they're engaging a general contractor and some of the prep work can start this year. They're aiming to finish construction by the end of 2026 and open the museum early the next year, he said.

Currently, he told Brunswick News, they've finished with the design of shelving for the museum's collections and are working out added details. He said there had been a request from the board to add a cafe to the roof, which he said was a "smart idea."

"That'll be one of the killer spots to visit in Saint John," he said. "You'll have this incredible panorama from the Reversing Falls, you'll sort of understand the city."

One of the properties being acquired, 241 Douglas Ave., is a heritage property built in 1881 which the museum has asked to have de-listed so it can be demolished. On April 3rd, the board gave its approval to the move, and it will be considered by council on May 13, the same day as the rezoning.

The only speaker against the project Wednesday was Steven Gray, who says he and his wife have lived at 241 Douglas for six years, and said he'd put $40,000 to $50,000 into the property to maintain it for heritage purposes, and said it was "discouraging to know that this can be easily done."

He said they're being forced out at the end of May, and were given a "low budget" and don't have the resources to move anywhere else.

"That was my home, I've raised a family there ... We currently have nowhere to go," he said. "We love it, we don't want to move, we don't want to be forced out of our home."

He said it was his first opportunity to speak on the project and felt like they hadn't got the "opportunity" to fight it.

Clinch told the committee that they examined the possibility of moving the property and decided it was not possible to move. She said there was an extensive consultation process in advance of the project.

"I'm very sorry to hear about your home," Clinch said, turning to Gray, saying they'd study what heritage items were possible to save from the home.

Coun. Gerry Lowe pointed out that property acquisition is done by the province, and Kirchner said the city is just the regulatory body.

Brunswick News has made a request for comment to the department of transportation and infrastructure and is awaiting a response.

When chair Brad Mitchell asked about the shuttle plan, museum COO Brent Suttie said that many of the museum's staff will continue to work out of the Lancaster location receiving collections and doing setup for exhibitions.

When committee member Ann McShane asked about traffic, city staffer Joel Landers said there are plans to install speed cushions at the museum intersection and that a capital project is planned to install speed cushions elsewhere on the street.

He said they received a letter with concerns about traffic, and the city's research has shown there are speed issues on the street that hasn't been solved by lowering the speed limit to 40 kilometres per hour.

Suttie told Brunswick News there were "great questions asked" and it was a "great opportunity" to share "things we're all excited about."

A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Donald Schmitt's name and the name of his firm, Diamond Schmitt. This story has been updated.

Andrew Bates, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal