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Public Works Museum Closes

February 3, 2010

On Feb. 3, David Scott, director of the city’s Department of Public Works, announced that midyear budget cuts by the city’s Department of Finance is forcing the Baltimore Public Works Museum to close its doors. The museum will be closed immediately, but the historic Eastern Avenue Pumping Station (the almost century-old wastewater pumping station still responsible for pumping Baltimore’s waste to the Backwater Waste Water Treatment Plant, where the museum resides) will remain open and functional.

According to the Department of Public Works, the Eastern Avenue Pumping Station was allotted $22.67 million by Department of Water and Waste Water for renovations, including construction of a new generator building and improvements to the building’s lights. The renovations began June 2007 and are still ongoing; the project is expected to reach completion within several months. According to Mari Ross, executive director of the museum, some were under the impression that it was the museum that was being renovated. “A very small part of the renovation of the building went to the museum,” she says. “We have a new entrance that is handicap accessible, but the majority of the renovation was to do with the pumps and building of the the pumping station.”

The Public Works Museum opened in 1982 to educate Baltimoreans about what services the Department of Public Works provides, many of which are integral to the quality of life in the city. “[The Museum] serves an important function in these times of critical resources,” says Ross. “It’s important for people to learn about the service they take for granted, what it takes to provide that service. When we get up in the morning and turn on the water we assume it will be there, without realizing there is an army behind that makes it possible.”

Ross, who is among the five people on staff whose jobs have been eliminated, remains hopeful for the future of the museum. “Although the city owns the building, there is a board of trustees and they will be meeting to consider options,” she says. Ross would like to see the museum taken in a new direction (she says she’d like to see the creation of interactive exhibits that will help people understand the feats of engineering behind public services—and the math and science behind that engineering) without relying on city funding.

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