Discovery Museum’s new location to serve all ages

By Josette Keelor

WINCHESTER — The Shenandoah Valley Discovery Museum will be moving into a building next spring that will offer more than triple the space its current location has for interactive exhibits.

Museum executive director Mary Braun said the museum’s new location at 19 Cork St. is more than 15,000 square feet, compared with the current 4,600 square feet museum at 54 S. Loudoun St. So far, 20 percent of the new building is finished, Braun said.

Armed with yellow costume plastic hard hats and safety goggles, children, their parents and other interested community members got their first look at the new Cork Street building on Friday.

“I’m happy to tell you, too, that we’re 77 percent of the way toward our fundraising,” Braun told those in attendance.

“Thanks to a generous gift from J.J. Smith, we’re able to pursue this project,” she said. “That coupled with gifts from the city and the county, both of $500,000, thank you for your advocacy and your support.”

More space means more fun features for area children, like a Triceratops, a recently retired ambulance, a science kitchen and a watershed exhibit, but there’s too much about to happen at the new museum to contain under one roof. Keep climbing and visitors will find a rooftop garden where daytime programming is only the beginning.

Think gardening classes, astronomy talks and landscape art, said board member Anita Jenkins.

“This is going to be the new nightlife of Winchester,” Jenkins said.

“I can’t wait to hear one of you say ‘Come on, honey, it’s date night, let’s go to the museum and go up on the roof.”

She said the new location will provide “More fun, more play, more hands on, more exploration, experimentation, research, learning, ideas, more failure in a safe place and being able to do it over and over again.”

“It is the goal of the museum to enhance its connections to the schools and to the students,” said Jenkins, a former principal of John Kerr Elementary School in Winchester.

Winchester is one of only seven locations in Virginia to have a children’s museum, Mayor Elizabeth Minor said Friday, “And with all the revitalization that we’re having downtown, I think it’s so remarkable that we are having our Discovery Museum right here, right now in downtown Winchester.”

But that doesn’t mean the process of moving locations has been easy.

Nathan Webb, project architect with Reader and Sports Architects, said the museum’s move has been 10 years in the making. Very much a work in progress, the new space began as a “cold brick and concrete shell,” formerly housing an architecture office.

The rooftop was a 3,000-foot gravel surface without guardrails, but soon will include a bandstand pavilion to accommodate events and ceremonies, even weddings. Colorful shade sails will make the space inviting, he said, even in the harsh summer sun.

Downstairs, a garage door on the museum’s front will allow traveling exhibits to move in and out easily, and Webb has planned a more approachable and energy-efficient structure that maintains the character of the building.

Architecture, he said, is more than bricks and mortar. It’s about the people who inhabit the space and also about creativity and having fun and a sense of exuberance about what the construction can achieve. The outside walls will reflect the museum’s creativity and youthful atmosphere, he said, with 3-by-3-foot art panels designed by children from the community.

“Those paintings will be there forever,” he said. “They’ll just become a permanent part of downtown Winchester.”

Attending the open house, Renee Bayliss of the Winchester/Frederick County Visitor’s Center said she’s looking forward to the finished product.

“It think it’s going to be great for tourists and residents,” she said. But she’s long had an interest in this project — it’s the reason she interned with the Discovery Museum in 2009 before becoming visitor and communication relations specialist for the Visitor’s Center. The museum will be a “great educational tool, great for children,” she said. “Everybody’s been waiting for this for a long time.”

Braun said she pictures the children’s museum as a place for the community to converge.

“It’s for moms and dads, family members, community members and downtown board,” she said, calling it “a multi-generational project.”

For more information about the Discovery Museum in Winchester, call 540-722-2020.

Contact Community Engagement Editor Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137, ext. 176, or jkeelor@nvdaily.com