Precise Environmental Conditions Ensured for Art Collections at Blowing Rock Museum

Optimizing the Building’s System to Meet Museum Standards

The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum was organized in 1999 to promote the visual arts, history, and heritage of the mountains through art exhibits, educational programs, and community outreach. The museum built and opened the doors to a new facility in 2011. The facility now houses permanent collections and visiting exhibitions, and hosts programs for children and adults. The museum has become a valued resource for the Blowing Rock community.

Challenge

Blowing Rock’s elevation makes its climate different from much of the state of North Carolina. It is not unusual for the townspeople to awake to a morning that is moist, foggy, and cold, and then watch it change to an afternoon that is dry, sunny, and warm. Such temperature and humidity swings are a major challenge for museums. Art museums must maintain tight ranges of temperature and humidity to avoid environmental damage to their works of art. Humidity levels, in particular, must be maintained at 50% to 55% year round.

In 2018, the Blowing Rock Museum began experiencing frequent humidity fluctuations well-outside the safe range. This put their permanent collections at risk, and began limiting the visiting collections that could be exhibited at the museum. Lee Carol Giduz, Executive Director of the museum, explains, “We were having all kinds of problems with the HVAC system. We had one unit that would cycle on and off every few seconds. We had humidity fluctuations that were not acceptable, which lead to major condensation issues in the winter when it gets very cold up here in Blowing Rock.”

Giduz and her maintenance team called on several local contractors to diagnose the problem and propose a solution. Their responses ranged from the system being too big for the building, to all of the sensors needing replacement, to all of the windows and doors needing to be recaulked. Giduz knew that the local contractors were doing their best to help them. She also realized that the widely varying solutions and costs they proposed would just be putting Band-Aids™ on wounds, not solving the comprehensive problem of a nine-year old HVAC system.

The issue became critically important in early 2019. The museum was beginning to plan for a significant exhibit of Works on Loan for that summer. “Part of the conditions of the loan was proving we were keeping our temperature and humidity within the museum standard, which we’d been trying to do,” explains Ms. Giduz. “But suddenly, we were going to have to report to somebody outside of us. It was clear that we needed someone else to look at it.”

Solution

Giduz and her team began looking for a contractor that could provide a complete solution for their system. They came across a case study about similar problem Building Clarity had resolved for the North Carolina Museum of Art. Ms. Giduz reached out to Building Clarity in the hope of finding the expertise her museum needed.

Rob Morrow, Building Clarity project manager, traveled to Blowing Rock to meet with Giduz and get a clear picture of the museum’s needs and challenges. Morrow proposed an approach that would have a Building Clarity team of engineering specialists inspect and diagnose the system, design a comprehensive solution, and then implement, monitor, and fine-tune it. The Building Clarity team would stay on-site each time for as long as it took to get the work done right. The museum would get their problem solved for a fixed fee so Ms. Giduz would not have to worry about unexpected costs suddenly arising. This approach was new to Giduz, but the system needed to be running precisely and consistently in time for the summer exhibit. She took that leap of faith and is so glad she did!

Building Clarity deployed a team to Blowing Rock to inspect and diagnose the system. The team included a design engineer, retro commissioning engineer, an air balancer, and a controls technician. They first reset the system back to its original design settings. Then they conducted a thorough check of system calibrations, the condition of system components, and the overall health of the system. As Giduz describes it, “they came in with a team who could look at all aspects of the system. Not just come in for a service call, but actually spend time here for a few days, talk to the staff, and really hear what our issues and challenges were, and what we had already tried.”

The Building Clarity team found that the local contractors had been somewhat right but, just as Giduz had suspected, the full picture was more complex. Was the system a little oversized? Yes, but it could be adjusted to work for the museum. Were some control sensors broken? Yes, but they didn’t need to be replaced because they were not really needed. In fact, their presence was making matters worse, so it was best to simply remove them.

Building Clarity also identified maintenance practices that needed to be in place to maintain the health of the system. For instance, they found filters that hadn’t been changed because they are difficult to find. Building Clarity used the system design plans to identify where everything was located so future maintenance would be complete. As Ms. Giduz explains, “we now realize that the contracted service providers for the HVAC system for the first few years after installation didn’t do the maintenance or repairs that the system really needed. They did what they thought would work, but it ended up causing unintentional deferred maintenance problems.”

The Building Clarity team designed a simplified solution optimized for the museum’s needs. They put together a manageable list of things to be addressed immediately, others to be done routinely, and still others that to be addressed in the long term as the system ages. Building Clarity made the needed repairs and equipment changes and reprogrammed the system to provide the conditions needed. “They also met with our staff maintenance person so he would understand the new operating design, things to pay attention to, and issues to look out for,” says Giduz, “and also with our Trane representative. So I think we’ve got the right eyes on the whole system now.”

Building Clarity recognized that the museum, due to its remote location, needed to be able to manage the system using local contractors. They recommended the museum use a maintenance software program that schedules and tracks their maintenance tasks. Building Clarity entered the system design specs, operating parameters, and maintenance schedule into the software.  The program automatically generates a work order when it is time for a system maintenance task. The work order details what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it should be done. Now, when the museum maintenance staff receives a work order notification, they simply schedule their local contractor and provide them with the specifics of the work to be done. Ms. Giduz is thrilled to have this system in place. “We haven’t just cured the problem for the short term, but with Building Clarity’s guidance and help, we now have a system for the long term that will prevent us getting back in the same situation in the future. Even if every one of the current staff were gone, it would still pop up and say ‘this needs to be done.’”

Results

The Blowing Rock Art and History Museum is now enjoying a system that is able to consistently maintain museum-standard environmental conditions. This not only enabled the museum to host the summer 2019 special exhibit, but has set them up for worry-free future exhibits. Ms. Giduz puts into perspective the importance of this to the museum: “It’s always great to save money [thanks to an efficient system], but our primary goal was maintaining temperature and humidity within the acceptable ranges for a museum and really keeping them stable.” Building Clarity helped her achieve that.

Giduz also notes the confidence she has with a team to keep the system running smoothly. “It’s been very nice to realize we’ve got a team. We’ve got Building Clarity who really understands our system. They have remote access to the system, as does Trane® and the people actually doing the maintenance and repair work. I’ve been here four and a half years, and it’s the first time I’ve had confidence in our system. I can’t say enough about how relieved and appreciative we are.”

Ms. Giduz had convinced herself that they had a system with major problems that would cost millions of dollars to correct. She actually thought it might mean the end of the museum. Building Clarity came in and brought some calm to the storm and fixed the problem. “I can’t say enough about how satisfied we are with Building Clarity, or how frustrated we were before we found them! I would definitely recommend them to anyone needing help with their system.

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