The Hands On! Discovery Center will open to the public this week at its new home in the Gray Fossil Site and Museum.
But Hands On! members got a sneak peak at the center Tuesday night after it moved from the building it occupied in downtown Johnson City for more than 30 years.
A line had already formed just outside the door by the time employees unlocked the doors, and children rushed to the new interactive sandbox stationed just outside the exhibits while their parents helped them shape mountains and lakes. In the next room, families worked together to find the best way to make a paper cup fly, craft the fastest toy car using air pressure or learn which sails make the best sailboats.
Known as Hands On! Regional Museum for the past 30 years, the center is a mix of favorite exhibits from the old location and fresh new exhibits to occupy 12,000 square feet of new space it now occupies in the General Shale Natural Museum at the Gray Fossil Site.
Executive director Andy Marquart said the name change from museum to discovery center came from a desire to re-establish Hands On!’s role in the community as a place for families to come together through science, technology, engineering, arts and math and away from their smartphones for a little while.
Marquart said since the museum’s soft opening earlier this month, visitors have been receptive and spend an average of three hours exploring the new activities and revisiting old favorites.
In the adjacent building, big foam blocks begged families to create robots and castles, while another family worked on a masterpiece out of small wooden planks.
“When you see people people engaged and interactive, that’s when everything kind of comes to life,” Marquart said.
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