Explore More Floors

VIC BRADSHAW Daily News-Record Jul 15, 2016

Photographer Austin Bachand / Daily News-Record

 Shamus Harris (right) and his daughter Savannah, 4, play at the Explore More Discovery Museum Thursday.

Shamus Harris (right) and his daughter Savannah, 4, play at the Explore More Discovery Museum Thursday.

HARRISONBURG — The Explore More Discovery Museum has begun the first of a series of growth spurts.

Lantz Construction employees have started work on the second and third floors of the museum’s building at 150 S. Main St. It’s the first of what Lisa Shull, the children’s science museum’s executive director, said will be a $3 million, multiphase build out of exhibit and community space.

“We’re going to get the shell ready,” said Shull. “Until we have a usable shell, we can’t put exhibits in and programming space.”

The construction work is expected to be completed in late October or early November.

The museum is spending about $1.3 million to get the second floor ready for users and install one or two exhibits and to complete some of the more disruptive work to prepare the third floor, she said. The nonprofit needs about $350,000 more to prepare the third floor for final build out, without which it cannot finish work on restrooms, electricity, or heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Though the floors won’t be fully developed, Shull said an important step will be taken when the tree house that’s been a tantalizing promise for years is ready for children. A donor has provided money to build and install the exhibit, which will include environmental activities one might associate with a tree house.

“Kids come in all the time,” she said, “and ask us, ‘Can we climb up in the tree house?’”

Maker’s Space

The work is part of a 22,000-square-foot expansion that will bring the museum to 33,000 total square feet. In making the building a capital gift, the city of Harrisonburg put the structure in the Harrisonburg Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s hands until 2020, when it’s slated to become museum property.

In addition to the tree house, Shull said she hopes there’s enough money to build out and start equipping maker’s space at the front of the building. When completed, the space would have items such as laser cutters, soldering equipment and perhaps a 3-D printer that can be used to make an array of items.

Such a space, she said, is ideal for projects related to science, technology, engineering, arts and math, commonly known as STEAM.

“We hope it will attract the tween and teen audience,” Shull said, “take our age range up a bit.”

Themes for future exhibits on the second floor include a quarry, a construction site, an airport, and music and digital art. Dynamic Aviation, a Bridgewater company that provides aviation services for clients globally, has offered an airplane for the airport exhibit, and it could be brought into the museum this fall.

Those exhibits, Shull said, will be added as funding becomes available.

“There’s nothing to stop us,” she said, “from adding an exhibit at a time.”

$1.5 Million Sought

Until this point, the museum’s activities have been almost exclusively aimed at younger children. It hosts 60,000 visitors a year, with three full-time employees and seven part-timers running the operation six days a week in the summer and five days the other three seasons.

But Shull said the third floor will change that. The space will be developed as a Community Education Center, with a kitchen for cooking classes for adults and children and a multipurpose space for performances, meetings, exhibits, receptions, conferences and other events.

“I think it will help us reach an older, wider range of audience,” Shull said. “It really will make us a lot more able to partner with other organizations.”

Money for the project is coming from the museum’s capital campaign. It started in 2008, two years before the organization relocated to the former Leggett’s department store building next to the Massanutten Regional Library’s downtown location.

Explore More operates on a $450,000 annual budget comprised of earned income from admissions, memberships, retail sales, field trips and parties, and contributed income via contributions, grants and sponsorships. It receives no governmental funding.

To build out the top three floors and equip them to function as envisioned, Shull said another $1.5 million must be raised.

Contact Vic Bradshaw at 574-6279 or vbradshaw@dnronline.com

Reprinted courtesy Daily News-Record