A nearly $2 million addition to the Gray Fossil Site under construction for more than a year is nearly ready for the public to use. Jeanie Zavada, director of the East Tennessee State University Gray Fossil Site Museum, said the annex, which has been under construction since March 2010, is complete. The only real work left to be done is to landscape and move in some furniture.
A soft opening is planned for Sept. 17. Visitors will be able to tour the first floor of the building at no charge. A cafe in the new annex, called Fossil Fuel Cafe, should be serving food that day, Zavada said.
A formal grand opening is planned for the middle of October.
“I hope that people from this area will be wanting to see the building,” Zavada said. “I know we’ve had some visitors who’ve come and wanted to come through, of course, it just hasn’t been safe enough.”
The 7,000-square-foot annex is connected to the main 33,000-square-foot museum building by a bridge.
The new building will include a classroom area that will accommodate about 100 children, a multipurpose room that will seat about 200 people, a cafe, an observation deck for the dig sites and a weather station and solar power learning area.
“We have solar panels up on the rooftop,” Zavada said. “The weather station is not installed as yet.”
If the solar panels work well on the annex, Zavada hopes to install them on the main building.
Zavada said the annex was needed to allow more programs and educational activities at the museum.
“We are going to do most, if not all, of our K-12 education programming here in this building,” Zavada said. “I suspect that there will be many, many uses. I look forward to school groups taking full advantage of this.”
More additions to the site are coming, Zavada said.
A recent Tennessee Department of Transportation grant for $145,000 was awarded to the Gray Fossil Site. That grant money will go toward outdoor enhancements to the visitor center, such as a welcome sign, signage for self-guided tours, landscaping, irrigation, picnic shelters, art and ADA accessibility. The project represents the completion of the grounds and visitor amenities for the visitor center.
Zavada also plans to eventually install a nature walk around the site, including on the 15 acres recently acquired from the neighboring Fulkerson farm and perhaps around Crossroads Christian Church, which also is adjacent to the site.
The Gray Fossil Site contains fossils dating back to between 4.5 million and 7 million years ago. The site was discovered in 2000 by TDOT crews cutting a road through the area.
For more information on new programs or exhibits at the Gray Fossil Site, visit www.grayfossilâ€‰ museum.com â€‰ or call the museum toll free at 866-202-6223. The fossil site and museum is located 1.8 miles from Exit 13 off Interstate 26 in Gray and is open daily from 8:30 a.m. until 5 p.m.