UPDATED WITH VIDEO: Hands On! takes over Gray Fossil Site museum

Sue Guinn Legg • Updated Jun 30, 2016 at 8:43 PM

After decades of searching for a new location, Hands On! Regional Museum has found a world-class home with room to grow.

Beginning July 1, the popular downtown Johnson City children’s museum will take over operations of the East Tennessee State University General Shale Brick Natural History Museum at the Gray Fossil site.

The result of a year-long collaboration between ETSU and Hands On!, the partnership includes the ETSU Center of Excellence in Paleontology’s continued management of the excavation, research and teaching activities that take place at the fossil site.

VIDEO: Hands On! Executive Director talks about the opportunities for growth the new ETSU partnership presents.


Hands On! Executive Director Andy Marquart said while the children’s museum will continue to operate at its current location for the foreseeable future and hopes to always have a presence downtown, its long-range plan is a for an initial expansion into existing, unused space at the Natural History Museum and the eventual construction of an even larger Center for Science for people of all ages at the Gray Fossil Site.

VIDEO: Hands On! Executive Director talks about the opportunities for growth the new ETSU partnership presents.


“The museum was looking at building from scratch a facility with roughly 17,000 square feet of exhibit space for the price of $15 million. The location in Gray not only attracted more interest from potential funders, but reduced the (cost) from $15 million to less than $9 million thanks to the already available space at the fossil site museum,” Marquart said. “It also increases the exhibit experience in the master plan build-out from 17,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet.”

He said Hands On! could renovate the downtown space for several million dollars, but it still would not have a parking lot and other amenities in a new facility or a facility that was designed and meant to be a museum.

“Most of the (capital) campaign (for expansion) would have to be devoted to the facility upgrades and would leave very little for new exhibits and educational content. This agreement allows for most of the funding from donors to go directly to exhibits and educational content. The collaboration represents a nearly 50 percent cost savings for Hands On! Museum’s long-range capital campaign while nearly doubling the square footage for exhibits.”

Hands On! announced its partnership with ETSU on Wednesday.

“This collaboration is a remarkable opportunity for Hands On! Museum. This allows us to continue to offer world-class informal educational opportunities and inspire children for years to come,” Marquart said in the press release.

"Our goal is to create a museum experience for everyone."

According to Marquart, the new museum will include the traditional favorites currently found at Hands On!, updated exhibits of the paleontological discoveries unearthed at the fossil site and as new exhibits. A capital campaign to fund the expansion will be rolled out in the near future.

Blaine Schubert, executive director of the ETSU Center of Excellence in Paleontology, said in the press release, “This collaboration provides an extraordinary opportunity for the region and an international destination for visitors, students and researchers. We are absolutely thrilled with this partnership and look forward to developing a truly unique experience at the Fossil Site" Schubert said.

More information about Hands On! Is available at www.handsonmuseum.org. More information about the Natural History Museum  can be found at www.etsu.edu/naturalhistorymuseum.

Email Sue Guinn Legg at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @sueleggjcpress. Like her on Facebook at facebook.com/sueleggjcpress.

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