Correction (10/07/2014): The original version of this article stated the total project budget was $75 million. The total budget for the project is actually $95 million, and $75 million only accounts for the construction that will take place. The article also stated the project will be completed in 2015. The project will not be completed until late 2018 or 2019.

Despite its extensive compendium of artifacts, the Burke Museum’s storage freezers and generators malfunction from time to time, often putting at risk its reserve of fossils, gemstones, and the third largest bird tissue collection in the world.

The Burke’s administrators are hoping to change that. The museum, located at the intersection of Northeast 45th Street and 17th Avenue Northeast, is undergoing the fundraising stage of its $75 million multi-year transformation plan.

The project, called the “New Burke,” is expected to be completed in 2015, with a larger, 110,000-square-foot new building expected to replace the current 52-year-old structure. The cost will include the construction, landscaping, moving of artifacts, and organizing campaigns related to the project.

This winter, Burke administrators will go to the state legislature for $46.2 million. The rest will be raised through other methods, including fundraising.

“We are not [simply] expanding the Burke Museum — we are building a new Burke Museum,” said Ellen Roth, the Burke’s public relations and marketing assistant.

Designed by Tom Kundig of Olson Kundig Architects, the new building will be located along 15th Avenue Northeast between Northeast 43rd and 45th streets. Administrators hope the new location will “break down barriers between public and ‘back-of-house’ spaces” and make “a vital connection between the UW and the surrounding neighborhood,” according to its website.

The “New Burke” plan aims to display a larger portion of its collections. In addition, the plan also intends to integrate its storage of collections and research labs with traditional galleries, which will allow visitors, educators, and students to see researchers work on scientific and cultural projects, according to Alaina Smith, the Burke’s director of external affairs.

Another critical reason for the “New Burke” plan is the Burke’s current building lacks air conditioning, climate control, or any form of backup power, which puts the Burke’s collections at risk if major freezers and generators fail. Smith said the freezers in the museum generate a lot of heat, which can drive up the temperature of the Burke’s hallway, and malfunctioning freezers and generators jeopardize tissue samples.

Similar incidents have triggered the alarms in the Burke Museum, especially in the summer. If solutions are not found in time, some tissue samples can be destroyed within 48 hours.

“Every object in our collections is unique and none of them is replaceable,” Smith said, noting the bird tissue collection in particular. “In fact, if something bad happens to that collection, it will be an international blow to ornithology.”

The possible destruction of the current samples could also trigger a chain reaction in the scientific community.

“This is a unique resource in the world,” Smith said. “All these tissues contain DNA. … Our collection is a library of biodiversity, which does not exist anymore. For particular cultural objects which are also unique in the world, each of them has stories and information.”

The research- and collections-based museum currently holds about 15 million objects in its permanent collection, including totem poles, gemstones, and dinosaur fossils, and is the oldest major natural history museum in the Pacific Northwest.

Glen Holt, former director of the St. Louis Public Library, has visited the museum often since moving to Seattle in 2010. He said he understood the Burke’s situation and hoped it would be able to protect its artifacts better.

“It is certainly a tough time to raise funds,” Holt said. “[But] each object in the museum is an extraordinary piece of history with nowhere [else] to be found.”

Smith thought the impact of the expansion would be more than just erecting a new building.

“We are the state museum of natural history and culture,” Smith said. “We care for the [objects] in our collections on behalf of the people in the Washington State. … By learning about natural history and culture, by studying our collections, we learn more about our world.”

Reach reporter Zezhou Jing at Twitter: @Zz_Jing

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