NEW LONDON -- The National Coast Guard Museum Association on Monday announced the themes that will drive the interior design of the museum and said it has plans to unveil its conceptual design to the public in the coming weeks.
The museum association is in charge of fundraising for the museum, an estimated $100-plus million project that is planned for the downtown waterfront. The group called Monday's announcement "an important milestone."
The three themes -- safety, security and stewardship -- are meant to represent the Coast Guard's 11 core missions, which range from marine safety to drug interdiction.
Within those three themes will be five story lines that will be incorporated throughout the museum: lifesavers around the globe; enforcers on the seas; defenders of our nation; protectors of the environment; and champions of commerce.
Gallagher & Associates, the firm hired by the museum association to develop interior design plans for the museum, spent a year reviewing the Coast Guard's 225-year history with input from an exhibit advisory panel of more than 20 nonprofit organizations before presenting the design concepts.
Visitors will begin their museum experience by watching a film that will explain the Coast Guard and its missions, and then move on to different thematic wings that will detail the stories and major milestones of the Coast Guard.
There will also be an educational and technology center, event space, and waterfront and rooftop exhibits.
Museum organizers have said that more finalized design plans, such as those announced Monday, could help attract seven- to eight-figure donations.
Museum association President and CEO Dick Grahn said prospective high-value donors have expressed interest in the safety deck, which will feature exhibits on the legacy of the lifesaving service and search and rescue, and the stewardship deck, which will feature exhibits on accident investigations and enforcement of environmental policies, among others.
The museum association has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Coast Guard to provide naming rights in recognition of various fundraising opportunities, according to Grahn. But the Coast Guard retains the right to say no to any of these requests, he said.
For the most part, the amount of funding raised for the museum has not increased since the beginning of the year.
The museum association has raised about $8 million in private donations. It has received a $20 million commitment from the state to fund a pedestrian bridge to provide access to the museum. A $5 million federal contribution proposed by U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., still needs to be approved by the full Congress.
Murphy, U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, worked to change federal language that previously prohibited the federal government from spending money on the museum. The change allows the $5 million to be used to fund interior aspects of the museum but not any brick or mortar aspects.
In a wide-ranging conversation Monday, Grahn outlined the "aggressive" timeline for the museum, which organizers hope to open by May 2020. It's anticipated that the museum will take two years to build and that construction will start May 2018.
Grahn said he'd like 90 percent of the project to be funded by the time construction starts, but that there have been situations where projects are 50 percent funded at the time of construction.
Grahn has been meeting with officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers about environmental concerns with the site, which is in the 100-year flood zone, called that because it has a 1 percent chance of flooding in a given year.
While FEMA has not committed to the museum yet, officials there have told the museum association that if it follows through with its recommendations, the agency will likely approve it, according to Grahn.
Meanwhile, Charlie Klee with architecture firm Payette has worked to incorporate concerns from all of the stakeholders into his design for the museum. Grahn said Klee is working "frantically" to complete the conceptual design, which the museum association's board is expected to vote on Thursday.
The Coast Guard will next have to approve the conceptual design before the public is able to view and comment on it. An unveiling to the public is anticipated in the next couple of weeks.