State offers details for upgrades to artist’s home

A design image of the new Frederic Church Center at Olana and new site plan. Image contributed

GREENPORT—On December 13 New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid and Lt. Governor Antonio Delgado were at the Olana State Historic Site to announce the construction of the Frederic Church Center for Art and Landscape. The plan includes a new entry and orientation facility at the site at 5720 State Route 9G.

According to a press release from the state, “the major capital and site improvement projects” will take place over the next two years. And, “the sustainably designed, all-electric Frederic Church Center will be a gateway to all visitors to Olana State Historic Site and is the marquee project of a $25 million investment to the site.”

Olana was the home and studio of Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900), a preeminent American artist of the mid-19th century. It is designated a National Historic Landmark administered by the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP). The Olana Partnership (TOP), a non-profit organization, offers public tours and educational programs year-round at the site.

“With these $25 million in improvements, Olana will once again welcome visitors from in and out of our state to take in breathtaking views and education programs,” said Lt. Governor Delgado in the release. “Thanks to everyone’s commitment to this partnership and we invite everyone to come rediscover Olana.”

At a virtual public information meeting in April, representatives from OPRHP and TOP discussed the proposed $11 million visitor welcome facility. At that meeting, TOP President Sean Sawyer presented the plan and the reason for the building. He talked about Frederic Church’s vision for the site and Olana’s Strategic Landscape Design Plan, which identified a new orientation point for visitors. Mr. Sawyer pointed out that 90% of the visitors only “really experience 1% of the landscape,” which is the land around the main house, and that only about 16% of visitors took a public tour last year.

“This plan is not about attracting more people, it’s about enhancing the experience for those people already coming to Olana,” he said at the virtual meeting.

The new building on the site will include an entry lobby for ticketing and orientation, a café, restrooms, and a multipurpose room adjoining outdoor terraces and paths that connect to Olana’s carriage road network “making all 250 acres of the historic landscape an integral part of public interpretation,” according to the release from the state in December. The building will have new functions such as electric equipment and vehicle charging stations and improved staff facilities.

Construction is set to begin in spring 2023 with an opening date of spring 2024. There will be a yet-to-be-designed solar component.

Additional projects in the next year include: a complete exterior painting of the historic house ($1.5 million); construction of a state-of-the-art maintenance facility ($6 million); rehabilitation of a dam and spillway, new ADA parking area, dark sky lighting and native plant species ($2 million).

The repainting plan is for Olana’s exterior in 2023, including windows, doors, porches and decorative cornices. Limited woodwork restoration and asbestos abatement of the window glazing will also be part of the project. And the new ADA parking will be near Cosy Cottage.

Also, according to the release, TOP has raised approximately $10 million in private donations and grants including a $1.4 million Empire State Development Market NY Regional Tourism Grant and $1.8 million in support from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority’s (NYSERDA) Carbon Neutral Community Economic Development Grant Program. State funds were also secured by Assemblymember Didi Barrett (D-106th).

Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, in the release, “The more than 200,000 annual visitors to Olana will be greeted by a spectacular and spacious new orientation site before enjoying the grounds where they can walk, hike, picnic, paint, photograph and dream much the way the Church family did centuries ago. We are grateful for our connection with The Olana Partnership, collaborating state agencies and the $1 million State and Municipal Facilities Program grant secured by Assemblymember Didi Barrett supporting the Olana State Historic Site.”

These major projects are the result of the award-winning Strategic Landscape Design Plan developed in 2015 between state Parks, TOP, the LA Group, and Nelson, Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects. The plan received the 2017 National Honor Award for Analysis and Planning from the American Society of Landscape Architects.

For more on Olana and the plans go to www.olana.org

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email

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