Evaluating the Sustainability of the Preservation Environment for Abbe Collections

John Brown, Director of Finance & Administration

In December 2009, the Abbe entered an application for a competitive planning grant with the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for evaluating the sustainability of the preservation environment for collections. In practice this means looking at our heating, air conditioning, and ventilation system (HVAC) which consumes a sizable chunk of our operating budget and leaves a significant carbon footprint. We have long had a suspicion that, in our effort to maintain a precise temperature and humidity environment, our system is often working against itself by cooling warm, humidified air in the winter and heating cool, de-humidified air in the summer.

In June of 2010 we were notified that we had been awarded $40,000 to proceed with the planning work. During the remainder of 2010, we identified professional consultants to advise on the project and obtained their commitments. We were fortunate to assemble a solid team from a diversity of disciplines that worked well together. Michael Henry is both a licensed architect and professional engineer with a specialized practice in building environments and energy management. Ron Harvey is a longtime Abbe friend and professional conservator with years of experience in materials preservation. Rounding out the team was Dave Clay who is a licensed engineer with Mechanical Services, the company that maintains our HVAC system.

The project all came together last month in several days of study and meetings at the Abbe. As a result, we obtained some immediate benefit by making adjustments to the HVAC control programming; and over the next four months we will be writing a report detailing how our system conforms to current museum best practices and remediation recommendations. This report will be the basis for a second competitive grant round for implementation including purchasing and installing equipment.

Image 1: The mechanical room of the Abbe Museum. Visitors can learn more about preservation and care of Abbe Collections in the exhibition Objects of Our Affection.