At a glance, one of the nation’s most prestigious educational institutions - the Smithsonian Institution - offers more than 136 million collections of objects, artworks, and specimens to 2.1 million members and more than 150 million visitors (via its museums, the National Zoo, traveling exhibitions, and its website). And - except for the virtual visitors - the physical presence of the Smithsonian is housed in 19 museums, 144 affiliate museums, and nine research centers.
Investing in its facilities infrastructure is big business at the Smithsonian. With FY05 facilities capital appropriations at more than $126 million, and similar FY06 appropriations at over $98.5 million, the organization is seeking an estimated $107 million for such appropriations in FY07.
In fact, this capital program is at the core of realizing the Smithsonian’s mission; it represents a vital investment in the long-term interest of the nation. Intended to provide modern facilities that satisfy public-programming needs and facilitate world-renowned research efforts, the institution’s physical plant has previously been unable to meet these objectives due to insufficient investment in both facilities capital and maintenance. As a result, widespread deterioration and increasingly impaired performance have beset each property.
The funds being requested revolve around a significant, 10-year-long capital revitalization effort (estimated at $1.6 billion), which includes repair and renovation of the existing structures, as well as currently needed anti-terrorism modifications. A FY07 application for funding for the Facilities Capital Program is under way, with the following documented performance goals: an improvement in the overall condition of Smithsonian buildings (based upon an established Facilities Condition Index rating) and a reduction of the $1.5-billion backlog of revitalization requirements (including such specific items as the complete revitalization of Ocean Hall exhibit space at the National Museum of Natural History). Additionally, the Facilities Capital Program outlines ways in which to provide a safe and healthy environment throughout its property portfolio (including fire-protection improvements), as well as world-class protection for Smithsonian facilities, collections, staff, visitors, and volunteers.
The Smithsonian’s agenda is ambitious but focused. Given its concerns and budget realities, its first priority is funding to keep the institution’s museums in operation, collections safe, and research programs intact. Three other areas - security, maintenance, and collections care - come before any new construction requests. And, all are sorely needed.
As an institution, the Smithsonian faces significant challenges if it is to continue to serve the public in an exemplary manner. With its well-documented and descriptive long-term facilities plan (with needs outlined in an extensive facilities condition and assessment program), dedicated dollars would help it continue its important role in the country’s civic, educational, and cultural education. Let’s hope the powers that be are listening.