Easton Collection Center
The Museum of Northern Arizona broke ground February 2, 2008 on the construction of the new Easton Collection Center. The building was dedicated June 21, 2009.

In June, 2009 the Museum of Northern Arizona dedicated its new Easton Collection Center, named in honor of the facility’s donors, Betsy and Harry Easton of Flagstaff and Sedona. This 17,000 square foot building symbolically represents the importance of collections to MNA’s mission by its construction in the heart of the Museum’s historic Harold S. Colton Research Center, in MNA’s 8th decade. The Collection Center is designed to hold a significant portion of MNA’s collections within its solid walls and provide a stable and secure environment for collections, with optimal ranges of temperature and humidity; a fire suppression system; protection from insect damage; and a high degree of security.

The building was designed by a team led by James Roberts, senior principle architect at Roberts׀‌Jones Associates, Inc. of Phoenix, an award-winning architectural firm that specializes in sustainable design and the sensitive integration of buildings with their natural and man-made environment. Also advising on the building design was Richard Cronenberger, an architect for the National Park Service who specializes in designing collections facilities, and collections conservation consultant Matt Crawford.

The development of a new collections facility has been one of MNA’s top priorities for many years and was listed as one of MNA’s highest institutional goals in the 2006 Institutional Plan. Over the past two decades various conservation consultants who have worked with MNA on collections care have consistently pointed out the need for new collections facilities.

Museum Director Robert Breunig states, “The construction of the Easton Collection Center is one of the most exciting—and significant―events in MNA’s history. MNA has needed this building for over 30 years to house its comprehensive collection of natural and cultural history of the Colorado Plateau. Since the late 80s, collections consultants have been advising us of the pressing need to improve our level of care. With this new facility, MNA will be able to fulfill its stewardship responsibilities to the public to take the best care possible of MNA, Federal, and tribal collections.

Breunig continues, “We believe that the building is a model for collections facilities and will provide an ideal environment for the Museum’s collections for generations to come. Funded by a private gift, the Collection Center represents one of the most significant building projects in MNA’s history and underscores the long-term commitment of MNA to its incomparable collections.”

“The design of the Collection Center has been a very enlightening and challenging process for our entire team,” adds architect Jim Roberts. “Our goal from the beginning has been to create a core facility for the Museum that embodies the spirit of the MNA mission, ‘to inspire a sense of love and responsibility for the Colorado Plateau.’”

The building has been carefully designed, taking into consideration how collections “flow” through a building from initial acquisition, through the cataloguing process, and on to the various stages of collections care and storage. The design optimizes access to these important cultural resources by researchers, and by the public through regular public tours. The building will accommodates those collections that are most at risk of damage due to improper storage environment including the Museum’s sensitive anthropological (archaeological and ethnographic), biological, fine art, and archival collections. Collections will be stored in new cabinets that glide on tracks embedded in the floor, creating a storage system that makes efficient use of space.

The new building will be “green.” It has been registered through the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification program and will embody the best principles of environmentally sustainable design. It has been designed to maximize energy efficiency, minimizing the use of fossil fuels. The high thermal mass of the building will efficiently provide stable environmental conditions for collections. More information on the LEED program is at www.usgbc.org.

In 2007 the MNA Collections Department received two major federal grants totaling $825,000 to support the acquisition of new storage cabinetry for the Collection Center. These grants, from the federal Save America’s Treasures program and from the National Endowment for the Humanities, will provide new museum grade cabinets for the long-term care of MNA’s anthropological collections.

The office area for the collections staff is located on the south facing side of the building to maximize access to natural daylight and solar gain in the winter months. Careful selection of materials for minimal environmental impact eliminates off-gassing substances harmful to people and collections. The new MNA Collection Center will provide not only an ideal environment for collections, but also for the collections staff.

The building design also emphasizes connections to the region’s American Indian community. Following recommendations from an American Indian Advisory Committee, the building has a number of symbolic and functional elements designed to make the Native community feel at home in the structure. The building entrance faces to the east and the building lobby captures dramatic views of the San Francisco Peaks. A glazed solar aperture next to the main entry door casts rays from the rising sun onto the structure’s inner door on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes and marks the path between the summer and winter solstices on the inner wall of the building’s vestibule. The front facade of the building forms in a gentle curve composed of native basalt rock. The exterior landscape design consists of plants native to this region.

Perhaps one of the structure’s most innovative features is an extensive living roof, planted with native grasses and wildflowers, and designed to provide a high degree of insulation for the structure and to slow run-off from the building onto the surrounding landscape. The primary consultant on the living roof design is Paul Kephart of Rana Creek Living Architecture, a firm specializing in green roof design and ecological restoration projects.

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