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Queens Museum of Art to take over skate rink site

With the old skating rink finally slated to close when skating season ends April 6, construction will finally begin on the $47 million expansion of the museum, which until now shared the building with the rink. It will occupy the entire 105,000 square feet in the building, originally built for the 1939 World's Fair.The old rink is replaced by the new $66 million Flushing Meadows Corona Park Natatorium and Ice Rink, the largest recreation facility ever built in a city park. It features an Olympic-sized swimming pool that opened last month and an NHL-regulation ice rink that will open later this year.The museum's expansion will add 30,000 additional square feet of exhibition space, doubling the size, Finkelpearl said.Other features will include large windows and a lampshade-type device to diffuse the natural light from outside, making it safe for illuminating the paintings, and large skylights.The side of the structure facing Grand Central Parkway will also be improved, with trees transplanted from other parts of the property lining the frontage and a glass wall with "Queens Museum of Art" inscribed in languages including Arabic, Greek, Italian, Japanese and Spanish.The bulk of the money for the project is public, including $22 million contributed by Borough President Helen Marshall's office. But Finkelpearl said the museum's board also did more fund-raising than ever before.The museum has planned to take over the full building since 1972 when it first moved in to the site, Finkelpearl said. The latest plan was unveiled in 2006, after the museum and the city Department of Cultural Affairs and Department of Construction replaced the previous architect.The new design, by London-based Grimshaw Architects, seeks to preserve many of the exterior characteristics of the 1939 building, including the colonnade, which will have its exterior windows removed to recreate the original look.Work was originally slated to begin in late 2007, but the delay in the new aquatic center pushed it back. Construction will now start in the summer. It is expected to last two years, but Finkelpearl said the work would probably take longer than planned.Finkelpearl said the museum will remain open through that time, though its exhibition space will be reduced."Over the next couple of years, after the summer, we're going to be doing a lot more flexible programming," he said. "Artist projects, small scale, building up momentum toward the reopening."Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jwalsh@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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