Newseum's Debut Will Be a Late Edition

Officials blame construction delays for keeping the $435 million complex on Pennsylvania Avenue NW from opening on Oct. 15, as previously announced.
Officials blame construction delays for keeping the $435 million complex on Pennsylvania Avenue NW from opening on Oct. 15, as previously announced. (By Katherine Frey -- The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The building has already gobbled up part of the skyline along Pennsylvania Avenue NW, but the public will have to wait a while longer to visit the Newseum.

Museum officials confirmed yesterday that, because of what they described as delayed construction deadlines, the $435 million project will not open Oct. 15, as previously announced.

A new opening date has not been set, said Charles L. Overby, the museum's chief executive officer. "We are aiming for a formal opening in the first quarter of next year," Overby said. "We now have assurances that they will be done by the end of the year. We think they will be done by the end of November. Yet, having been burned once, we are holding up on setting a grand opening."

The delay is attributed to the complexity of the building and the final installation of state-of-the-art electronics that has to be done after the general contractor, Turner Construction, is finished. "We always knew it was going to be challenging," said William M. Brennan, executive vice president of Turner. "The museum folks are journalists and are not used to building buildings every day. They are fine-tuning the physical product to get exactly what they want." He said the company would be "out of there by mid-September."

After that, Overby said, the electricians and the designers who work on the cases and put up the big media screens will do their final work. Then comes a shakedown as invited guests try the different devices. "After Turner and all the fabricators, we want to have a period for calibrating and testing. A huge issue is sound levels. We have all these movies and videos. We want to do that for at least a month," Overby said.

The main funder of the Newseum is the Freedom Forum, a nonpartisan foundation in Arlington.

"It is a minor inconvenience. Yes, I'm annoyed that I didn't put more time into [the time frame between the construction completion and the opening]," Overby said. "Everyone we have informed has been understanding. People would be far more annoyed if they came on October 15 and it was only three-quarters done."

The building, at Sixth Street NW, is a departure in its size and the experience of the electronic age of media. It has seven levels totaling 643,000 square feet, with the museum occupying 250,000 square feet and 70,000 square feet dedicated to exhibits. It also includes apartments and a restaurant by chef Wolfgang Puck.

The museum has 14 galleries, 15 theaters, two broadcast studios and 130 interactive touch screens.

On July 24, the museum posted a story on its Web site under the headline "Construction Update: It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like a Newseum." The report said "major construction is complete" and that exhibits were being installed in a half-dozen areas. Hard-hat tours for special guests will continue, such as one this week for the journalism educators' association, but social events scheduled for the fall have been moved or postponed.

Earlier in the year, a three-story-tall guard tower that was part of the Berlin Wall was erected in a gallery; also moved into the building were a satellite truck and a bullet-pocked pickup truck used in reporting in the Balkans. A 74-foot-high engraving of the First Amendment, in Tennessee marble, was installed on the facade facing Pennsylvania Avenue.

The museum recently activated a news ticker, already visible from the street.

The Newseum will explore five centuries of news-gathering and major news events. A timeline will include giant photographs of the fall of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad, the World Trade Center in flames on Sept. 11, 2001, and O.J. Simpson's mug shot.

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