Major VMFA expansion gets boost in Northam’s budget

By: - January 4, 2019 1:23 pm

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, which opened its newest wing in 2010, is pursuing plans for another major expansion and renovation. (Photo by Jim from Richmond, VA – Virginia Museum of Fine ArtsUploaded by Morgan Riley, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link)

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is planning a major expansion and renovation of its Richmond campus that would grow the facility by more than 100,000 square feet, about two football fields worth of additional floor space.

The plan got an initial OK from Gov. Ralph Northam, who included funding in his proposed budget amendments for initial planning, which the museum estimates would cost about $17 million.

The VMFA, which opened a major new wing in 2010, estimates the total cost of the project at $125.8 million, $83.9 million which would ultimately come from state funding and $41.9 million from private fundraising, according to the museum’s budget request.

The plans call for “expanded exhibition galleries, collection-support, collaborative and educational spaces for meetings and programs and development of a new sculpture garden,” museum officials wrote. “While we are in the beginning stages of fundraising, we feel confident that we could leverage a pledge of state support to raise one-third of the funds necessary for this project from private sources.”

They floated a potential 2024 ribbon cutting.

Northam also included funding in his proposed budget amendments for museum repairs to repair a variety of water damage problems, which museum officials say are causing mold and humidity problems in the museum’s galleries and other areas:

The 2010 expansion along the north face of the building has water infiltration which threatens the Department of Conservation (restoration of works of art) and the Library which houses rare collections. The fascia will need to be removed and a substrate investigation performed to determine the cause of the leaks around the windows.

The north face of the 2010 expansion is stained from issues associated with the hidden drains. The fear is the drainage system may be compromised in the interior of the building which may be contributing to the leakage inside the Library and Department of Conservation.

On the lowest level of the 1970 addition, there is a continuous leak into office space from an underground stream bed. As a means of trying to control the leak, VMFA installed a pipe through the wall with a spigot on the interior side and hose to drain the water into an interior floor drain. An investigation needs to be performed to identify the boundaries of the stream bed and reroute it or create an underground diversion to keep it away from the building.

Museum officials requested $6.5 million in general fund dollars for the work and another $4.7 million to replace fire safety systems.

Science Museum of Virginia

Northam also included funding for the Science Museum of Virginia to begin planning work on a regional science center in Northern Virginia. According to the museum’s budget request:

The project would fund the detailed planning for the construction of a regional science center to serve citizens, families and schools in Northern Virginia. Delivered through a partnership between the Science Museum of Virginia and the Children’s Science Center (, a Fairfax based 501(c)3 non-profit organization, the project would advance the Science Museum’s mission to inspire Virginians to enrich their lives through science, in alignment with the Center’s mission to instill a love of learning science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The partnership leverages the Science Museum’s four decades of expertise in informal science learning and museum operations at their Richmond and Danville museums which presently serve more than 400,000 guests each year. The two organizations signed an MOU and worked together with outside experts to develop a master plan for the future science center in Northern Virginia, engaging broad community input. This request for detailed planning funds is critical in FY 2020 to enable the next phase of architecture, exhibit and construction planning and to take advantage of this time-limited land donation.

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Ned Oliver
Ned Oliver

Ned, a Lexington native, has been a fulltime journalist since 2008, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass. He was named Virginia's outstanding journalist for 2020 by the Virginia Press Association.