Child’s play 

The 21,000-square-foot exhibition, made possible through a $12 million grant, is the latest product of an institutional reboot started several years ago.

As part of the project, the museum at 2100 N.E. 52nd will renovate its exterior, improve parking, re-engineer the main entrance and establish a new master plan. The new exhibition will provide an introduction to basic sciences, said Don Otto, museum president and CEO.

“We’re trying to introduce kids and families to science in a way that’s fun, that’s natural,” Otto said.

The museum’s entrance, on the building’s east side, will be moved back west to its original location. That lobby will be redesigned by local firm Elliott + Associates Architects, which also will work on the exterior and master plan.

The children’s exhibit will take up the ground floor’s northwest section. Some antique aircraft currently in that space will be displayed elsewhere inside.

The $12 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation meets more than half of the project’s $25 million goal. In 16 to 18 months, museum officials hope to have construction plans ready with the exhibit, and the entrance open in two years.

Kevin Wilson, vice president of operations and finance, has managed the addition of multiple exhibits over the past few years, but said this will be the biggest project in more than a decade. The museum already has a contract with an exhibit manufacturer in Canada, and outside experts will help design different elements.

“This is literally 20 times the size, the workload, the cost. It’s just tremendously larger,” Wilson said.

In 2005, when the venue still was widely known as the Omniplex, its executives decided it needed updating, including fresh exhibits.

Before that, it became the hub of an in-state network of children’s museums when the Reynolds Foundation approached in 2002.

Those projects, Otto said, now have combined to realize a goal in the works for years — one that takes equal parts creativity and solid engineering.

“This exhibit has never been built before … so you have to engineer it from the ground up,” he said.

The first step is deciding what kids need to know. In this case, it will introduce chemistry, physics, geometry and geology, acting as a kickoff to the rest of the museum, he said.

Next is figuring out how to make it “funky” and introduce play. But that can’t come at the expense of durability, which is one of the final elements.

When that’s all settled, Otto said, it can be mapped out for construction.

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