Milwaukee Public Museum leaders warn accreditation could be lost due to roof, A/C issues

MILWAUKEE -- Milwaukee Public Museum officials asked the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors Capital Improvements Subcommittee for more money to fix the fourth-floor roof and an air conditioning issue MPM officials said could cause the museum to lose its accreditation.

The committee meeting took place Tuesday, Aug. 20.

Milwaukee Public Museum leaders told the committee that the fourth-floor roof is beyond repair and needs to be replaced, noting the Asia/Africa exhibits had to be shut down from November 2018 until early August 2019 due to leakage and a risk of damage to the exhibits.

They added that the air conditioning/chiller also needs to be replaced, noting every time it shuts down, there's a risk of damage to some of the four million pieces in storage that require temperature control.

"Our main chiller and AC system that we have for the museum, it not only keeps the area cool for our visitors -- it’s a requirement to be able to keep the collections at certain temperatures," said Ryan O'Desky, senior VP of operations and finance with MPM.

They said every time it rains or snows, parts of the third floor have to be closed to the public.

"We were finally able to, about two weeks ago, remove the buckets, remove those and open up," said O'Desky. "As we get heavier rains and snows, we are gonna have to close that third floor again, which does not allow for visitors, which is over $500,000 a year to be able to go and see the number of art collections we have. That roof has been on lists for a long time, and again, we are very concerned about it at this point because of the size of the third floor. It has started to seep into the second floor. What that means is, if it really starts getting that into the collections, we're going to not only have to shut down the collections, we're going to have to move those collections as well, which is a very large problem and issue to move anything."

Museum leaders said if the air conditioning issue isn't resolved, the museum could lose its accreditation, with the 10-year review from the American Association of Museums due in summer 2020.

"It's getting worse and worse every time it does rain or snow and there's nothing left to really be done from a maintenance perspective because its pervasive," said O'Desky. "It's, on average, shutting down two to three times a week -- at least $250 to $300 dollar fuses every singe time that happens, and it's just not working. It's well past its useful life, over 30 years old at this point, and not much more maintenance can be done."

Committee members suggested moving some of the museum's collection off-site in order to keep the museum's accreditation, but museum leaders said they don't believe that would be possible without spending even more money -- noting these repairs are necessary despite the plan for a new museum. Leaders said in the best case scenario, ground wouldn't be broken on a new museum until 2022, and it wouldn't open for years.

"We have four million collections that need to be moved, and a rigorous process to move those," said Ryan O'Desky with MPM. "We don’t have a site yet. We don’t have any capital campaign. Nothing has really begun from that perspective. We are a number of years out."

No action was taken during the committee meeting Tuesday.

Any money allocated for these projects would have to be included in Milwaukee County Chris Abele's budget.