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ROM announces two $3-million gifts for its new centennial campaign

Rendering of the ROM Amphitheatre by Hariri Pontarini Architects.

Hariri Pontarini Architects

The Royal Ontario Museum celebrated the 100th anniversary of its opening by announcing it will spend millions to make the Toronto institution, its public presentation dominated since 2007 by the controversial Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, more inviting to visitors.

Officials used the occasion of the centennial to mark the start of a public campaign to raise a total of $15-million by June next year, all from non-government sources. The museum already has received commitments of nearly $7-million for what it is calling the Love the ROM Centennial Campaign.

Wednesday's media conference announced two gifts of $3-million each from Helga Schmidt, president and CEO of Toronto-based ABC Group of Companies, and Hatch Ltd., an international engineering, project and construction firm headquartered in Mississauga.

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The Schmidt donation is dedicated to the creation of an outdoor performance space to the museum's north-west named after Ms. Schmidt and her late husband, Mike. The space is part of the $4-million Welcome Project, the exterior portion of which will feature a "gallery" of trees, flowers, shrubbery and "community gathering places" along the museum's plaza on Bloor Street West.

The ROM expects to have a final concept design for the gallery completed in May or June by Toronto's Hariri Pontarini Architects and Montreal landscape architect Claude Cormier, but the majority of its construction will occur next year.

The $3-million Hatch contribution, announced by its president and CEO, John Bianchini, is earmarked for several projects, including a director's fund to "support the museum's highest priorities," an endowment to bankroll the managing directorship of ROM's Earth & Space centre of discovery and the acquisition of the Douglas Kirwin ore deposit and mineral collection, numbering more than 20,000 samples.

Another aspect of the Welcome Project will involve renovations to the museum's entrance and lobby. Concept designs are expected to be completed this spring. "We're looking at an integrated approach with the outside project so the sense of welcome is increased and it's a little more convivial when you come in," explained Dave Hollands, head, creative ROM.

"The main objectives are to make sure a visitor encounters the museum content much more immediately and that the logistics of arriving – buying a ticket, scanning your membership card, leaving your coat – has a much more naturalistic flow."

Mr. Hollands said the ROM wants to achieve "a balance" between "honouring the iconic nature of the space" designed by superstar architect Daniel Libeskind as part of the $416-million Renaissance ROM project and "making it much more richly embroidered with the museum sensation."

Besides the exterior-interior enhancements, the other "legacy project" the museum is keen to complete in the next year or so is a Gallery of Early Life on its second floor. An interactive space budgeted at about $6-million, the gallery will showcase fossil specimens from the Burgess Shale in B.C. and Nova Scotia's Joggins Fossil Cliffs, among other locales. Toronto's Ivey Foundation already has donated $2-million for this gallery.

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