For anyone driving along Henry Thomas Drive in City Park over the past couple of months, the rumble of tractors and screeching of cranes have become familiar. So are the wide ditches, muddy pits, hardhats and orange construction netting, by now a common sight for park visitors on their way to the New Orleans Museum of Art or joggers running the Big Lake Loop.
The area behind NOMA and bordering the park's lagoon on both sides has become a major construction zone as two major projects inch closer to completion.
The two undertakings — an expansion of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden and construction of the new home for the Louisiana Children’s Museum — are close to each other, with the new museum hugging the lagoon behind the park’s Botanical Gardens and the sculpture garden’s extension sitting directly behind NOMA.
Despite the heavy construction presence, most of the work for both projects has taken place behind fences in an effort to curb traffic congestion. Neither project is close to being done, but the sculpture garden will be the first to hit the mark, now set for April, a few months past the original December goal.
The $15 million, 6-acre expansion of the original 5-acre sculpture garden is designed by Reed-Hilderbrand and Lee Ledbetter & Associates and will add 25 new sculptures to the existing 64.
Most of the new works will be contemporary sculptures. Two are site-specific commissioned pieces inspired by the Louisiana landscape. Like the original sculpture garden, the expansion will incorporate indigenous plants in its layout and will be designed to foster environmental sustainability.
Other planned amenities include an amphitheater and stage for musical performances, pedestrian walkways and bridges, a new sculpture pavilion and an outdoor learning environment.
With Spanish moss wrapped around her shoulders, Rebeckah Gordon-Kirk sat near the front of City Park’s miniature train as it passed through gr…
The expansion will allow more space for film screenings, theatrical productions, festivals and community workshops, among other events. Once open, the garden will be free to the public seven days a week.
The nearby Louisiana Children’s Museum, a $47.5-million project, is a significantly larger undertaking, taking up an 8.5-acre plot of the park overlooking the lagoon, sometimes called the Little Lake.
Plans for the museum’s move from its current Julia Street space to City Park were hatched more than a decade ago; museum CEO Julia Bland and City Park CEO Bob Becker began discussions in 2007. Progress was slow, as the museum worked to secure more financing, which was eventually raised over the years through a combination of private donations and public dollars.
The roughly 20-month project is expected to be finished next summer. Once the construction of the building and the landscaping of the grounds are finished, it will take another two months or more for the exhibits to be installed, Bland said.
The Seattle-based architectural firm Mithun designed the new museum along with local partner Waggonner & Ball.
For those passing by, it’s hard to miss the bright teal façade of the two main buildings, wrapped in light purple Tyvek. The two structures, creating a roughly 56,000-square-foot-space connected through an atrium and courtyard, overlook the lagoon and will house five exhibit galleries, a literacy center, a parent and teacher resource center, and a cafe.
“There will be a lot of wonderful amenities to enjoy around food and around creativity and around exploring nature and learning about water and water management,” Bland said.
To teach children about the city’s history, the “Mighty Mississippi” exhibit will tell the story of the Mississippi River, and a floating classroom will sit on the lagoon’s edge.
Popular exhibits at the museum's longtime location in the Warehouse District, including the grocery store and spinning bubbles, will also be featured at the new museum.
The new museum will be City Park's first LEED-certified facility, an environmental building designation, and Bland said providing plenty of access to the outdoors and green space for children was high on the list of priorities when designing the facility.
“To be able to give children many more experiences outdoors with nature has been a driving factor of ours all along,” she said.
Starting in the fall, a seven-month landscaping process will kick off to create the sprawling outdoor space with decks; bridges; spaces for music, food and art; an edible garden; and a restored wetlands area.
More than 125 new trees will be added, the existing lagoon will be restored to include freshwater and brackish wetland environments, and a 15,000-gallon cistern will collect rainwater from the roof and create an “interactive runnel” where children can play and splash.
Beyond creating a much larger outdoor learning environment, organizers hope the move to City Park will bring more guests to the Children's Museum. At the Julia Street space, the museum has had about 125,000 guests a year. At the new facility, Bland said, they hope to increase that number to 250,000.
“We’re focusing on the capacity of young children,” she said. “To really help a bigger, broader community see what it looks like when we take early learning seriously and we invest in early childhood differently and we think about the long-term impact and return on that kind of investment — of understanding children’s thinking and learning.”