The foundations for the new Museum and Archive at Lews Castle, due to open in July 2015, have been laid.
Work on the £8.5 million contract which also includes major repair and restoration works to the Castle is being carried out by Graham Construction along with local sub-contractors including Duncan MacKay & Sons and DJ Macaulay Construction Ltd.
Over the next few months the new museum and archive - a single storey structure of stainless steel, glass and Caithness stone designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects of Edinburgh - will emerge on the site of the Castle’s former glasshouses, which were demolished after World War II.
The juxtaposition of new against the old will have echoes of the relationship between the magnificent Victorian glasshouses and the A-Listed Castle.
The museum will provide substantially enlarged display space and important new facilities including a special exhibitions gallery for local and national exhibitions and a bright attractive learning and community space within an existing sheltered courtyard.
Gaelic-led interpretation in the museum galleries will focus on stories of the land, the sea and the people of the Outer Hebrides.
For visitors and local people the new museum and archive will be a gateway to a unique heritage resource – a network of local museums, historical societies, collections, archives, important sites and buildings, archaeology and a living Gaelic culture with a rich oral history.
The work to the interior of the Castle will include full restoration of the public rooms to their period splendour for functions and hospitality use.
A new glazed roof over an inner courtyard featuring remnants of the 17th century Seaforth Lodge will create a visitor link between the Castle and the museum.
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has identified a preferred hospitality partner for the project and is currently working to secure a funding package for the final phase of works to convert the upper floors of the Castle to create high quality hospitality accommodation.
Talking about the latest step in the project, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, said: “A key aim of the new museum is to signpost to the diverse sites and collections throughout the Outer Hebrides and to encourage visitors to explore and engage with local museums, collections and communities.”
Comhairle nan Eilean Siar Leader, Angus Campbell, added: “This is an important milestone for the Comhairle and the communities of the Outer Hebrides.
“The Comhairle is committed to investment in a new museum and archive building and a heritage service with the potential to deliver significant regeneration and cultural benefits for communities spread across the islands.”