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Washington's oldest public museum gets a new look

The Burke Museum breaks ground Wednesday for a major new facility.

The Burke Museum has been located at the northwest corner of the University of Washington’s Seattle campus for more than 50 years.

Officials say the current building is structurally unsound, and too small for the 16 million objects in the museum’s collection. Its new home will be 60 percent bigger.

Designed by Seattle architectural firm Olsen-Kundig, it carries an estimated price tag of $99 million. About half of that comes from public money. The Burke still needs to raise more than $30 million.

The Burke Museum began life in 1879 as a high school natural history club. It became the official Washington State Museum 20 years later.

In 1962, the museum was renamed in honor of Judge Thomas Burke, in recognition of a bequest in his name. 

After the new Burke Museum is finished, the existing building will be demolished. Officials expect work to be complete by 2019.