Multiple construction projects improving Fort Leonard Wood museum complex

Brian Hill
Fort Leonard Wood

Anyone passing by the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex at Fort Leonard Wood has probably noticed construction projects that have been ongoing over the past year.

While much of the visible work has been exterior — focused on fixing the roof and masonry issues on the 53-year-old structure — other projects near completion are improving the museum for visitors and the artifacts inside.

According to Eric Timmerman, chief of the museum complex, the museum suffered from storm-related water damage to the roof in recent years.

“The water stains were visible along the interior walls and damaged several exhibits,” he said. “Artifacts were removed from the exhibits and placed in the basement for preservation until the repairs could be made.”

In addition to problems with the roof, the actual structure — built in 1968 and added to in the late ‘90s — had some visible damage to the masonry.

Thermal expansion and contraction of materials over 50 years caused cracks in the museum's masonry, which was one of several causes for water damage. The masonry fixes have been completed. Courtesy photo

“Over time, thermal expansion and contraction of materials caused cracks,” said Ale Lopez, an architect at the Directorate of Public Works, who has been the designer for most of the projects, ensuring required build quality and code compliance. “There were several causes for the water intrusion. One of them was the deterioration of the masonry walls and roof material. Other causes were the way the parapet was constructed and the lack of insulation that was causing interior water condensation.”

Lopez said the recently completed repair of the masonry work included replacing mortar joints and damaged bricks, and redesigning and rebuilding the parapet — the protective wall along the edge of the roof.

“In addition, the roof membrane was replaced throughout the whole building to provide a white surface with additional insulation to improve the energy efficiency of the facility,” she said.

The other major exterior project currently in progress is a renovation of the patio on the north side of the complex.

Workers remove pieces of concrete in preparation for an improved patio at the John B. Mahaffey Museum Complex that will include an additional set of stairs and more room for outdoor events. The old patio had water damage and was deteriorated to the point of being potentially dangerous for visitors. Photo by Richard St. Cyr

“It was clear that the brick retaining walls around the museum patio were getting to the point of being a potential hazard for the visitors,” Lopez said. “Water damage and deterioration was causing some areas to start coming apart.”

The patio project was designed as an extension of the masonry work repair, Lopez said. The new concrete patio being constructed will include an additional set of stairs and more room for outdoor events and ceremonies. A completion date has yet to be determined.

In addition to the exterior improvements being made, other projects are also either underway or set to begin soon, Lopez said.

Visitors will notice some exhibits are closed while a new temperature and humidity control system, or HVAC, is being installed.

The new system will tightly control temperature and humidity, allowing for the display of sensitive artifacts, Timmerman said.

“We have an engineer coat from 1856 that requires strict environmental controls,” he said. “The previous HVAC system was installed in the 1960s and struggled with the constant opening and closing of exterior doors. The new (system) solves the issue by monitoring visitor flow and adjusting the system accordingly. In addition, the new system will increase energy efficiency and visitor comfort.”

In line with visitor comfort is a complete renovation of the restrooms, due to begin soon.

Lopez said the facility restrooms have not been updated since the building was built.

“The women’s restroom (currently) has fewer toilets than new requirements dictate,” Lopez said. “The project will renovate existing restroom fixtures and finishes, increase the number of toilets in the women’s restroom and build a family restroom and a lactation room.”

Lopez added a climate-controlled restroom trailer will be on site in the front parking lot during the restroom renovation.

Finally, repairs and improvements are being made to the exterior museum sign, including new lettering and lights, Lopez said.

Timmerman said the ongoing construction will impact the entrance to the building and lobby during the months of June and July. Alternate entry points will be identified.

The building was originally a 32,000-square-foot library, lounge, dining room and full-service kitchen. A two-level 44,000-square-foot addition to the building was constructed in 1997.

The complex now includes the Army Engineer Museum, the Military Police Museum and the Chemical Corps Museum, along with regimental rooms, artifact storage areas, staff offices and gift shops.

Prior to COVID-19 mitigation requirements, the facility hosted 250,000 visitors a year, and various events and ceremonies.