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New Hands On! location adds 12,000 square feet of exhibit space

Evan Mays • Jun 6, 2018 at 11:31 PM

The Hands On! Museum has a new home, and it’s huge.

The museum has been a staple of the Tri-Cities for decades. First opening its doors in 1987, the museum has been a revolving door of different exhibits and activities for people of all ages. That hasn’t changed, even with a new home at the Gray Fossil Site.

On Wednesday, Andy Marquart, executive director of the newly named Hands On! Discovery Center, hosted a soft opening, and expressed how grateful he was for the new space. During the soft opening, which marked the beginning of the center’s daily open hours, Marquart detailed what the museum plans going forward.

“The goal of the new Discovery Center is to create an all-ages experience for STEAM,” Marquart said.

STEAM is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics. According to Marquart, even before the acronym was created, the ideas behind STEAM were the founding pillars of the museum.

“Another big goal of this center is to inspire children to pursue a career path in STEAM,” Marquart said.

If there were any place to send a child to dive head-first into the fields surrounding STEAM, it would be the Hands On! Discovery Center. At the center, children are introduced to paleontology, art, science and everything in between. At the center, according to Marquart, kids will not be lectured, or watch videos, or read instructions.

“Those who visit us will have a personal, individualized experience,” Marquart said. “They will be building things, creations of their own, and learning how what they built works.”

Marquart said some of the more popular exhibits and activities from the old location, like the Eastman Discovery Lab, will be moving to the new center. Those fan-favorites will be combined with new STEAM-centered exhibits. And, all of this will be happening at the Gray Fossil Site, one of the most historically rich areas in the community.

At the center, kids will not only be able to learn about fossils, but they will also be able to join paleontologists and find fossils for themselves. Kids can also learn the processes paleontologists use to find the fossils, and what happens after they do discover a remnant of the land before time.

Marquart stressed that the center isn’t just for kids. He said that in the short time the center has been open, he has seen kids and their parents bonding more and more.

“At the downtown location, the parents would mostly stay in the background while their kids played in the exhibits. But, now that we have more immersive and interactive exhibits, I have seen more and more parents participating with their children,” Marquart said.

Another important new aspect of the center, is the Tot Spots areas. These areas are for parents with kids from two different age groups. Younger children, who might not be interested in some of the immersive exhibits and activities the center has to offer, will have these Tot Spots, where they can find activities more suited to children of their age group.

This summer, the center will introduce a three-story climbing structure centered around fossils that can be found at the site. The center will host its annual PaleoCamp, for kids 5-12. At the camp, kids will dig for fossils, perform science experiments, and more.

Visit the new Hands On! Discovery Center at 1212 Suncrest Drive in Gray.

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