Out of a great past, an inspiration for the future

Mummies from ancient Egypt, a life-size dinosaur, a six-foot tuna and an enormous bison.

Mummies from ancient Egypt, a life-size dinosaur, a six-foot tuna and an enormous bison. These are just some of the fascinating artefacts which will share a home in a new £26m museum in Newcastle.

The Great North Museum, set to open its doors in 2009, will be a flagship visitor attraction, bringing together natural history and archaeological collections from Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities, Shefton Museum, the Hatton Gallery and the Hancock Museum.

The Hancock Museum, which closed its doors to the public in April last year, is now being transformed to combine its blockbuster exhibitions with a new learning suite and purpose-built library as part of the project.

The back extension has been knocked down to be replaced with a new wing, creating a 2,400 sq m extension to house a special exhibitions space.

Lindy Gilliland, project manager for the Great North Museum project, said: "This is the first part of the museum redevelopment that can be seen from the outside of the museum, and it is very exciting.

"I want to reassure people that we are not demolishing the museum and that it is only the back of the building which is not part of the original structure that we are removing and extending.

"The redevelopment of the museum will enhance the original features of the building both inside and out while updating displays and facilities to create a world-class visitor attraction for the 21st Century."

The extensive project is the result of partnerships between Newcastle University, Tyne and Wear Museums, Newcastle City Council, the Natural History Society of Northumbria and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Highlights of the new museum will include a large-scale, interactive model of Hadrian's Wall, major new displays showing the wonder and diversity of the animal and plant kingdoms, spectacular objects from the ancient Greeks and a planetarium.

Not to mention a life-size T-Rex skeleton.

Since the Hancock Museum closed its doors, staff have been busy packing away the many exhibits, all to be safely stored until the museum opens.

The Land of the Pharaohs display is now re-housed at Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum, in Wallsend and the popular live animals can now be seen in a mini zoo at South Shields Museum and Art Gallery.

Enabling work designed by the Newcastle office of White Young Green (WYG), consultants to the built, natural and social environment, has just been completed.

WYG's expertise in design, mechanical and electrical engineering is helping to provide an energy-efficient solution for services installation, in line with requirements from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which is just one of the causes funding the project.

The firm is also liasing closely with architects to ensure the new extension is sympathetic to the existing Listed museum building.

Alex Bryden, associate director at the Newcastle office of WYG, said: "The existing building is a Grade 2 Listed structure, both inside and out, so the integration of modern services within a classically constructed museum structure has presented considerable technical and spatial challenges throughout the development of the design."

Nevertheless, the firm has been praised for undertaking the work in a sympathetic fashion.

James Adshead, senior estates project manager at Newcastle University said: "White Young Green has a great reputation for undertaking sensitive work of this nature and incorporating the regulation guidelines for Listed buildings.

"This is a very exciting time for us. I am confident that once completed, the venue will become a major visitor attraction for the North-East."

The Newcastle office of Atkins, a multidisciplinary architectural consultancy, will undertake the £1.5m conversion of the Grade 2 Listed Discovery Museum basement to form a new 2,500sq m collections storage and resource centre.

Atkins' upgrades to the museum will comprise a new research and service room, a school classroom and toilets.

Study areas will be accessible for both members of staff and the public to view the stored collections. New environmentally controlled ethnography, geology, spirit, biology and archaeology stores will also be provided.

David Fuller, head of design at the Newcastle office of Atkins, said: "Atkins has significant experience of restoration projects and a national portfolio of work.

"Drawing upon our team's extensive expertise, we have taken great care to preserve the integrity of the original design by saving a number of fine timber-panelled screens, brick arches and the original features of the cast iron structure. Our team is very much looking forward to the start on site, which is expected in June."

The Discovery Museum, located on Blandford Square in the city centre, was originally constructed in 1899.

Peter Derham, historic buildings officer for Newcastle City Council, said: "The Hancock Museum and the Museum of Antiquities' collections are unique and irreplaceable and therefore require protection from extremes of moisture, temperature variation and from dust settling.

"This project is extremely important to the continued preservation of the collections and being close to the Hancock Museum will reduce potential damage to delicate objects and samples which can be inflicted by transportation."

The Great North Museum project has been made possible with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, TyneWear Partnership, regional development agency One NorthEast, the European Regional Development Fund, Newcastle University, Newcastle City Council and the Northern Rock Foundation.

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