JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. to )
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC , Volume 39, Number 1, Article 7 (pp. to )




The contract mitigation specialist conservator mobilized the Collection Resource Center staff and worked with the museum administration and the museum's insurer in setting priorities and a preliminary budget. Included in the budget was funding for a senior objects conservator, project documentation, supplies, and project personnel wages. Funding for an assistant conservator, an assistant registrar, two laptop computers, appropriate software, one printer, and new storage furniture in the textile storage area was also requested. This funding was not granted.

At the time of the mold outbreak, the collection was not completely cataloged or inventoried. The Collection Resource Center staff believed that 31,000 objects were affected by the mold. The duration of the mold response project was projected to be seven months. This projection was based on a treatment time estimate of one-half hour per artifact multiplied by 31,000 artifacts. By this calculation, the project would require 15,500 hours of work for 13 crew members working eight hours a day on artifacts (Roberts 1995).

Deeper into the project, it was found that each crew member was spending about five hours per day working directly with the artifacts. Three hours of the work day involved documentation, rehousing, and maintenance. Further investigation of existing collection inventories revealed that there were probably at least 51,000 artifacts to examine, clean, and rehouse. Taking into account averaging, the half-hour estimate per artifact proved to be accurate. The estimate for the project duration was increased to 25,500 hours, or 19 months. This estimate held with five hours per day per crew member for artifact work and averaged the crew size at 13 per month.1 The estimate took into account the other project-related work the crew performed (Dicus 1997).


The disaster mitigation contract conservator left the project after completion of the immediate-response tasks. The long-term contract conservator joined the project. The two conservators had no time together on the project, and the leadership transition was incomplete. One month elapsed in which there was no conservator on-site, and during that month the Collection Resource Center staff managed the response project without conservator leadership. Tensions and misunderstandings developed that had to be resolved and clarified after the second conservator took over management of the project.

The project conservator initiated a number of organizational duties and tasks. Administrative duties included project documentation, productivity projection and documentation, supply procurement, staff training, health and safety protocols, budget, payroll, staff meetings, and weekly and monthly reporting. Collection tasks included environment stabilization, artifact documentation, artifact cleaning procedures, artifact rehousing, and building maintenance

The Detroit Historical Museum curator of museum programs provided the administrative liaison between the project and the museum, and the on-site DHM staff provided curatorial support to the project. The on-site maintenance staff monitored and maintained the mechanical system, serviced the portable dehumidifiers, and designed and built storage modifications. The project crew included a conservator project manager, a technician assistant project manager, and 13–17 crew members examining, documenting, cleaning, and rehousing artifacts.


The Detroit Historical Museum, a department of the City of Detroit, had a $1.2-million reserve policy with its insurer. The insurer and the museum agreed on a quarterly payment schedule for the project, based upon actual costs. Monthly financial reports were prepared for the museum, the insurer, and the project files. A running year-to-date expenditure record was maintained by the project conservator.

To expedite the transfer of funds from the museum's insurer and through the City of Detroit municipal structure, the Detroit Historical Society, a private nonprofit organization, was designated by the museum administration and the insurer as the repository for the insurance payments. As an insurer of a City of Detroit department, the insurer had a contract with the City of Detroit, so the insurer's payments were sent to the city, approved by the Detroit City Council, and released to the Detroit Historical Society. This procedure often resulted in a delay in receipt of funds by the society and ultimately by the vendors and project crew. The uncertain cash flow remained a problem throughout the project.


In the 1987 building retrofit, the storage area had been planned for limited personnel presence and short illumination periods. The mechanical system was designed to take in no outside air, and to shut down the chiller at night. During the construction phase, the museum elected not to install the reheat coils, which had been in the original plans. The system had been calibrated to hold a temperature of about 65F, utilizing a sequence of operation that provided efficient, sensible cooling but inadequate latent performance, made worse by the cold condition maintained within the space and the lack of reheat capability (Weintraub 1996).

The appropriate method of dehumidifying a space is to operate the air handler so that it removes a sufficient amount of water and then offset the excess cold temperature of the supply air by reheating it before it enters the room. This method makes it possible to control both temperature and relative humidity when dehumidification is required. Without a reheat capability, this control is not possible (Weintraub 1996).

Using four to six portable dehumidifiers in the storage area, a large quantity of moisture was removed from the air following the mold outbreak. This lower relative humidity, in the 45–60% range, could not be maintained except by continuing to run the dehumidifiers 24 hours a day, seven days a week during the part of the year in which the boilers are not fired, essentially April–October. All dehumidifiers were drained to overhead drip pans, except for one for which the drain run was too long. It was drained to a carboy, and the carboy was emptied regularly. The dehumidifiers were checked daily during the workweek for malfunction, hose adjustment, and leaking of any sort. Eventually, three large floor fans were used in various locations in the storage area where airflow seemed diminished.

The managing of the relative humidity in the storage area following the mold outbreak was a tenuous, temporary arrangement. The museum wished to consider the long-term solution to the problem. An outside consultant specializing in environmental monitoring and control for museums provided the information necessary to allow the museum administration to reach consensus on the matter. The solution involved the installation of reheat coils and properly programmed controls (Weintraub 1997). It should be noted that the mechanical system had not been calibrated since installation in 1987, and air velocity and volume had not been measured.

During the project, no retrofit work was done on the mechanical system in the Collection Resource Center. Therefore the portable dehumidifiers were used throughout the project duration, from April to November each year. In addition to the ongoing struggle to control the relative humidity, the high level of workstation illumination and the daily presence of 17–20 people in the storage area caused the temperature to be higher than the human comfort level. Workers wearing half-mask respirators, caps, gloves, and long-sleeve coveralls and working under high illumination became overheated working at temperatures in the 70–75F range. The mold quarantine in effect for the storage area did not allow the opening of interior doors for additional ventilation. During parts of each year of the project, staff discomfort was a continuing problem.

Five recording hygrothermographs (RHT) were in use in the storage area during the project. They were calibrated weekly, using an aspirating, battery-operated psychrometer. The recording hygrothermographs were read at scheduled times: once in the morning by the building maintenance engineer and once in the afternoon by the museum registrar. The registrar maintained a daily record. This record was submitted with the monthly financial and narrative reports to the museum administration, the insurer, and the project files. The RHT charts were photocopied. The copies were kept on site by the maintenance engineer. The original charts were sent to the chief of maintenance at the main museum.

There was no emergency power backup for the dehumidifiers during the project. The museum administration was advised that emergency power for six dehumidifiers and two chest freezers at the Collection Resource Center would require a generator of at least 6,000 watt power, and extension cords of at least 12 gauge. No arrangements were made for emergency power provision.


It is estimated that project crew members gave about 20% of their work time to documentation and documentation processing.

3.4.1 3.4.1 Project Management Documentation

A daily project log was kept by the social history curator throughout the project. Supply orders and deliveries, personnel issues, memorandums, meetings, project planning, site visits, problems, and unexpected events were recorded. The log was used by the curatorial staff and the project manager to track project activity and to compile monthly reports.

Monthly financial reports and daily and monthly productivity reports were maintained. The financial and production reports were sent to the museum administration and the insurer at the end of each month.

The productivity report allowed computation of the number of artifacts processed per month, the quantity of artifacts processed per hour, the process time per artifact, and the cost per artifact processed. These figures permitted monthly estimates of work yet to be undertaken, budget projection, and accurate records of work completed. This report was maintained by the project assistant manager and was included in the monthly reports for the museum administration, the insurer, and the project files. Daily productivity sheets provided accurate records of artifact category and artifact quantity treated by each crew member.

3.4.2 3.4.2 Artifact Documentation Photographic Documentation

Initially a photograph was taken of every artifact treated, before and after cleaning. With at least 51,000 artifacts to examine, clean, and rehouse, it was clear that recording and filing more than 102,000 slides would be a task beyond the project's ability. Therefore a photography selection process using artifact condition and collection significance criteria was developed. Not every artifact was photographed. During the project, 396 rolls of 35 mm slide film were used, resulting in 14,256 slides. Slides were placed in polyethylene sheet sleeves and filed in ring binders.

Thirty-five mm slides were used for photographic documentation with the idea that they could eventually be scanned into a CD-ROM. Ektachrome 200 film was selected, to be used in Samsung AF-Slim Zoom point-and-shoot cameras, chosen for their moderate price, ease of use, and local availability. Some repair work was required on these cameras during their heavy use in the project. Seattle Film Works was chosen as the film processor because the price was acceptable, the image quality adequate, and new film was returned with the processed slides.

A project crew member with a photography background was chosen as the camera steward. Three point-and-shoot cameras were used to photograph artifacts at the time they were examined and cleaned. Each crew member did his or her own photography. An exposure log was maintained. Paper Documentation

A paper inventory form was filled out for every artifact handled. The original inventory form was a generic form that required quite a bit of handwriting. Gradually the forms were tailored for specific artifact categories, and more use was made of the check-off format. Thus time-consuming handwritten work was reduced. Accession or inventory number, object name, dimensions, description, materials, condition, treatment, photograph roll and frame number, storage location, date of work, and the name of the person handling the artifact were recorded on each inventory sheet. Some artifacts were treated as a batch, with a single inventory form used to record a number for the batch and a list of its contents. A cross-referenced filing system was set up for inventory forms and slides. The project assistant manager developed more than 50 documentation forms, including forms for documentation of the diphenylamine spot test for cellulose nitrate.