Armory eyed by Schenectady Museum

Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche Planetarium officials are interested in relocating to the Schene

Schenectady Museum and Suits-Bueche Planetarium officials are interested in relocating to the Schenectady Armory.

Executive Director Kerry Orlyk said Monday that museum officials want to study the cost of using the facility at 125 Washington Ave. She said the museum could attract many more visitors at the armory than its current 40,000 to 45,000 people a year at the Nott Terrace site.

“We have studies showing us that we could serve up to 300,000 visitors per year if we had a larger facility,” she said.

Museum officials have been searching for a larger home for several years. An earlier plan adopted in 2004 had called for the construction of a $72 million, 114,000-square-foot science and technology center on a parking lot on Broadway near Villa Italia. The museum still has an option from the Metroplex Development Authority on that parcel, according to Orlyk.

Orlyk said the armory site offers a lot of advantages, including its location across the street from Schenectady County Community College, adjacent parking and access right off Interstate 890.

“It’s very visible to the downtown area and it lends itself to being a great blend of the old and the new, which is similar to our mission,” she said.

Orlyk said Schenectady County and Metroplex officials had urged the museum to take a look at the armory. The state Office of General Services had scheduled an auction of the armory on Nov. 17 but canceled it at the last minute, citing other opportunities for disposing of the property. “I know OGS was aware of our interest so that could have had something to do with them canceling the auction,” Orlyk said.

She said she hoped that OGS would transfer the property at no cost if possible. She said she hopes OGS officials will reach a decision in the coming weeks so the museum can take the next step of a full study of the cost involved in adapting the armory.

Among the current exhibits are displays on wind and solar power and one on trains and locomotives. Orlyk said the museum has a historical collection with more than 40,000 objects and 3 million pieces, which includes photographs of the armory when it was originally constructed.

She said the existing armory space could work with some slight modifications to the inside.

She also said the center would construct a small addition to house the planetarium, other programming space and a gift shop. Museum officials do not have any cost estimates at this point.

The center does not have the resources to do a true science center, Orlyk said.

“We actually have to turn folks away for programming because of not having enough space,” she said.

Orlyk said the museum has been transforming itself in recent years into a regional center for science, technology, engineering and math because of the shortage of qualified people in those fields.

She said area companies like GlobalFoundries, IBM and GE need talented scientists and engineers and science centers can serve as a feeder to get students to study scientific disciplines and become the next generation of workers for these companies.

Science and creativity

“Our goal is to show kids that science is not only fun but they could use their own creative skills and knowledge to be the inventors and innovators of tomorrow,” she said.

Orlyk said it would be a good use of the space. “There are science centers across the world that have been built in old warehouses and armories,” she said.

The county ideally is seeking a straight transfer from OGS to the Schenectady Museum, but it is conceivable that the county could be involved in some way, according to a county official who did not want to be named.

Orlyk said the museum would be interested in partnering with the Dudley Observatory on programs.

Last year, the two organizations had a falling out after Dudley officials informed Schenectady Museum officials that they would not relocate with them at a new facility.

They were concerned that museum officials had gone on record in a news article announcing a partnership with the two organizations when no such deal was in place.

Dudley Observatory Executive Director Janie Schwab would not comment on the latest proposal.

The decision about what to do has also divided the Schenectady Museum board.

Two members resigned over the previous incarnation of the expansion plan. They had advocated a scaled-down proposal to stay at the current location.

Office of General Services spokesman Brad Maione said he had no comment.

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