Designing the Museum: An Interview with Kyle Nelson of Manhattan Construction Company, Oklahoma City

On February 25th, the Oklahoma State University Regents selected Manhattan OKC as construction managers for the OSU Museum of Art. Kyle Nelson is the Project Manager for the Postal Plaza Museum renovation. Kyle and his team have strong OSU ties: over two-thirds of the people working on the Art Museum project graduated from Oklahoma State University.

I spoke with Nelson via email last week about what Manhattan brings to the project, why they’re excited about the Postal Plaza, and what it’s going to take to make the experience a success. “I was ecstatic” about the opportunity to work on the Postal Plaza, Nelson wrote. “It is a real privilege to work with Oklahoma State University and we don’t take the opportunity lightly.” It won’t be the first time Manhattan has worked for OSU, and although the Postal Plaza is downtown rather than on campus, Nelson sees some similarities between his past experiences and the Museum project.

Kyle Nelson, Project Manager for the OSU Museum of Art

When we prepared to interview potential construction management firms this January, I was unsure how I (as a curator with little practical construction experience) was going to evaluate them. Luckily, we had some expert committee members from OSU’s Long Range Facilities Planning working with us, and they spent a generous amount of their time explaining precisely what the role of the construction management firm would be. In Nelson’s own words, the construction manager is the “last line of defense … Manhattan drives quality and dictates our schedules to the benefit of the project.” So what excites Nelson about the Postal Plaza Museum? “To work in the team environment that Long Range Facilities Planning promotes along with a visionary and out of the box thinker in Rand Elliott,” he believes, will result in “an iconic facility sharing culture with the masses long after we’re gone.”

Interior of the North Classroom Building at OSU; one of the campus projects managed by Manhattan OKC.

According to Nelson, “the team approach exhibited by Oklahoma State University and Long Range Facilities Planning” has been directly responsible for the successes Manhattan OKC has had with campus building projects in the past, such as the North Classroom Building (completed in 2008). Campus projects can present particular challenges for construction projects because of the disruption inherent to the process. “We work … [to] be as unobtrusive as possible to campus and University activities,” notes Nelson. “This will continue to hold true working with the City of Stillwater in the downtown environment. … You won’t find a better looking or cleaner project.” Great news, since the Postal Plaza is right across the street from one of the busiest parts of downtown!

The Oklahoma History Center, another museum project managed by Manhattan.

Last January, Manhattan OKC immediately impressed the interview committee with their related experience in historic renovation and museum building. They’ve worked on the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Norman. Manhattan Construction has also worked on museum projects farther afield such as the World of Coke in Atlanta, Georgia. The Oklahoma City office’s renovation projects include the Colcord Hotel and the Oklahoma State Capitol. Nelson described how Manhattan OKC’s successful renovation projects offer a model for the OSU Museum of Art. “On the Postal Plaza, a proper evaluation of the existing building is imperative, [including] an accurate assessment of the primary objectives and milestones.” The planning process will likely some early demolition: “The entire team [must] properly evaluate the existing structure through an early exploration phase of design development. This will require a carefully coordinated selective demolition operation as well as further investigating the utility locations and requirements.”

Brent Collins, superintendent for the OSU Museum of Art project.

“From the Smithsonian quality of the Oklahoma History Center, to renovating the State’s Art Collection Gallery inside the State Capitol, we are the premier museum builders in the nation,” asserts Nelson. He attributes this success to Manhattan’s culture of commitment. “We listen, we drive our projects, and we deliver. … My staff works anywhere from 60-100 hours a week consistently…and the effort pays off when we deliver on time. I’m proud to leave a legacy through Manhattan’s passion for building quality projects.”

Louise Siddons is the curator of the art collection and future OSU Museum of Art. She spoke with Kyle Nelson via email last week.

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About osucurator

Louise Siddons is Associate Professor of Art History at Oklahoma State University and founding curator of the Oklahoma State University Museum of Art. She maintains this blog as a record of her students' work with the Museum's permanent collection as well as more generally with topics related to museum studies.
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