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Ingenium president Christina Tessier, seen in Ottawa on July 3, 2018, said the museum’s team was inspired by the chance to redesign the institution.

Blair Gable

As any homeowner knows, sometimes you run into some surprises when it’s time to move. This has proven to be especially true for those involved in the relocation of the stored exhibits of Canadian Science and Technology Museums Corp.

“We sometimes don’t know what’s in the back,” said Gordon Perrault, director of conservation and collection service, on a recent tour through the Crown corporation’s warehouses.

He pointed out red-velvet cushions eaten by moths and vials of unlabelled chemicals with mysterious contents. There were also rundown cars to contend with, he said. “Every time you move a crate, there’s another brake system [lying there]."

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The corporation, which brands itself as Ingenium, is in the midst of a major move: cleaning up its three warehouses in Ottawa and building a new facility to house its collection. The project is massive, costing $156.4-million and promising a major addition to one of Canada’s national museums. But it has been beset by delays caused by problems in the early planning stages.

The new storage facility called the Collections Conservation Centre will replace the old warehouses and will allow for public tours. In addition to housing the collections of the science museum, it will also provide space for artifacts from the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Conservation Institute.

The project follows a major three-year renovation of the science museum itself. The new facility has welcomed more than 500,000 people through its doors since it reopened in November, 2017 – nearly double the 285,000 who visited during its last full year of operation before it was closed down because of a mold infestation.

Ingenium president Christina Tessier said the museum’s team was inspired by the chance to redesign the institution. “It was like unleashing all this potential where they hadn’t had the opportunity to in the past.”

Ms. Tessier was named head of Ingenium in June, after leading the science museum during the time it was rebuilt and reopened. The corporation runs that national museum and two others, on agriculture and aviation, that are elsewhere in Ottawa.

In the spring of 2016, Ingenium – in the midst of the extensive $80-million renovations of the science museum – got $156.4-million more from the government to build a new structure to store its collections.

The centre is currently under construction and already towers over the science museum just steps away. The structure is four extra-large storeys tall, each floor about twice the height of a regular floor. Its floor space is about 35,800 square metres, about four times as big as the museum.

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But the collections centre has had its own challenges to overcome.

The construction plan had holes: work on the structure would block the emergency exits of the main building. The cost estimates were off: specialized laboratories for researchers would cost more than twice what the museum expected.

And, crucially, the design itself was flawed. The storage space was set to wrap around the main museum, but the roof design would allow snow to pile up in winter and that raised concerns about the potential for leaking and mold that had shut down the museum in the first place.

In the end, the museum’s board decided that it was going to rip up its previous plan, order up a new collections centre that stood apart from the museum, and make do with the amount of funding it already had. That meant scaling back the available size for storage by a third and opening six months later than it originally intended.

A report from the Treasury Board – obtained under access-to-information laws and first reported by the Ottawa Citizen – indicated the museum could start running out of storage space again by 2024, even with the new facility. Mr. Perrault said the museum would compensate for the smaller space by being choosier about what items go into its collections.

However, the new design will cost the same as the old one. Ms. Tessier said the museum takes seriously the fact that public money is being spent. “We are here at the goodwill of Canadian taxpayers,” she said.

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