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Carver Museum expansion plans headed to Council in May

Friday, April 30, 2021 by Jonathan Lee

City Council is set to approve expansion plans for the George Washington Carver Museum in May, the final step in a yearlong – and entirely virtual – process of planning, community engagement, and board and commission review.

The museum is dedicated to Black history, art and culture, and serves as an important community space in East Austin. 

The expansion has been in the works for over 20 years. The museum’s master plan, adopted in 2000, called for a phased build-out. But only the first phase, the current structure that was completed in 2005, was ever built. 

“The community wants to see this built … especially those individuals that were around when the original master plan was done,” said Terry Smith of Smith & Company Architects, the consultant for the master plan work.

The plans call for the museum to nearly triple in size, bringing the total building to 90,000 square feet. New indoor space includes a ballroom, additional classrooms and dance studios, more art gallery space and a 500-seat proscenium theater. 

Seventy-thousand square feet of new outdoor improvements are also planned, including an event lawn for concerts, a community garden, an outdoor classroom, restrooms, a plaza and a 300-stall parking garage.

The expansion is estimated to cost $58 million and will take several years to build out in phases. Before construction can begin, the museum will have to gather money from a variety of local, federal and private sources. Various groups, including the African American Resource Advisory Commission, have urged Council to help fund as much of the plan as possible.

On Tuesday, the Parks and Recreation Board, one of the last groups to review the plan before it goes before Council, got its say. After praising the project, parks board members voted unanimously to recommend that Council approve the plan.

“It is beautiful and … long overdue,” Board Member Francoise Luca said. “I think it is a lovely project that just begs to get grants and sponsorships and some corporate money behind it, because it is very stunning.” 

Board members also provided constructive criticism, recommending upgrading the bus stop on-site, adding bike parking, prettying up the existing drainage pond with landscaping, and ensuring the garage along Rosewood Avenue is not an eyesore. 

Smith said all of the recommendations will be considered in the final plan, which will be ready sometime this summer. He said the plan presents a great opportunity for art and “could actually be a benefit to memorializing the culture of the site.”

Council is expected to approve the plans on May 20. “Then we can put a bow on the plans and move forward,” Smith said. 

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