New Whaling Museum center will bolster downtown

Property of Whaling Museum
Property of Whaling Museum

By Jonathan Carvalho
May 20, 2014 12:01 AM
NEW BEDFORD — With shovels at the ready, Whaling Museum trustees, staff and donors gathered Monday and broke ground on a $6.5 million expansion of the museum in another sign of the city’s resurgence.
“From an economic development perspective, it’s important because it strengthens the urban core of the city,” Mayor Jon Mitchell said, adding that reinforcing a strong city center is key to having a successful city and is “one of our primary objectives.”
The addition will encompass a new education center and research library named for two of its major benefactors, Gurdon Wattles and Dr. Irwin Jacobs. Each man gave more than $1 million to the Whaling Museum for the new center, according to museum spokeswoman Stephanie Poyant Moran.
In total, $6 million has been donated toward the project, with $500,000 still to be raised.
The Wattles Jacobs Education Center will occupy a spot lining up with the storefronts of North Water Street.
Two of the major donors were on hand to break ground on the new center and offer their thoughts about giving their names and their donations to the planned four-level building.
“Education is something we’re always very much interested in,” said Jacobs, who was joined by his wife Joan. “As we began to see the plans develop, we thought we’d provide support.”
In his philanthropy, Jacobs said it is important to give not only to good projects but also to organizations with good leadership, which he said the museum exemplifies.
A New Bedford native and NBHS graduate, Jacobs, founder of telecommunications giant Qualcomm, was in the city for the groundbreaking and the presentation of scholarships of $35,000 to each of five New Bedford students.
Wattles, a museum trustee and longtime donor to the institution, attended with his wife Kathy and said expanding the museum for the new education center will further the mission of the museum, which he called a “wonderful portal” to the culture of the region.
“We like to support things which will open doors and create opportunities for people,” Wattles said. “The museum teaches us about where we came from and where we’re going.”
The museum’s research library is currently located at 791 Purchase St., which is for sale; its collections will move to the new research library within the planned education center.
Armand Fernandes Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, summed up the need for an expanded education center: “The only thing more costly than education is ignorance.”

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