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Enhanced education

Eric Miller, right, exhibits director at the Discovery Center of Idaho, and Mark O'Brien, exhibits designer, talk in one of the galleries that is being renovated.
Eric Miller, right, exhibits director at the Discovery Center of Idaho, and Mark O'Brien, exhibits designer, talk in one of the galleries that is being renovated. Special to the Idaho Statesman

Lovers of hands-on science, of local history, of native plants, rose gardens and botany camps, rejoice. Three local institutions are in the midst of major building projects that will expand classroom, exhibition and public spaces.

The Discovery Center of Idaho’s project will be complete in a whirlwind of four weeks. The Idaho Historical Museum’s expansion will be complete in 2017. The Idaho Botanical Garden is still in the fundraising stage for its new classroom space.

Here’s a closer look at the projects:

Discovery Center of Idaho

On a recent morning, crews started tearing up old tile and carpet at The Discovery Center of Idaho.

It was the first step in an expansion that includes a 1,000-square-foot space for very young learners, a 2,000-square-foot Micron innovation lab, new floors, bathrooms, freshly painted walls and even a new logo for the sign outside. The scale and pace are ambitious. The public will see the changes at a grand reopening on Nov. 20.

“It’s a crazy schedule. Everyone is going at warp speed right now,” said Terri Raudenbush, operations director.

The center, a private nonprofit, received a $300,000 gift from The Micron Foundation to pay for the innovation lab. It is the largest private donation in the center’s history.

The center’s staff will use the lab to build its exhibitions, like the upcoming “SuperStruct: Some Assembly Required” that looks at foundational principles used by engineers. The lab will also become a “production house” that builds and sells exhibitions to other STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) learning centers outside of the Treasure Valley.

The plan, said Raudenbush, is to use proceeds from the sales to support the center’s school field trip program, a new offering this year. Morning field trips cost $3 per child. Afternoon field trips are free.

“Free programs are a huge financial undertaking for us. But eventually, we would like to offer free field trips all day and have every schoolkid come to the center,” Raudenbush said.

The innovation lab will also be home to STEM-related classes and camps for learners of all ages. Until now, the center hasn’t had space for those kinds of activities.

The Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation paid for the new area for “crawlers through K,” which will feature hands-on activities such as water tables, large blocks, sand tables and a quiet space for stories.

“We have found that most science centers can’t be sustainable without looking at this audience because they’re the families who come when school is in,” Raudenbush said. “We’re looking at the next 25 years, at the needs of the community and how we can be a science center that meets those needs.

“It’s important to put money into education in Idaho in general. It’s an underfunded entity. I don’t think anyone in the education world would disagree. The Discovery Center is a building block in that.”

Idaho State Historical Museum

History lovers got their last look inside the Idaho State Historical Museum in Julia Davis Park in August 2014, before it closed to the public. An expansion will add about 13,000 square feet to the museum’s 1950s-era building. Staffers say it will reopen in fall 2017.

The project is on schedule, said Janet Gallimore, executive director of the Idaho State Historical Society. Crews cleared artifacts from the museum and moved them into safe storage over the summer. Construction bids will go out this winter. Construction will begin in spring 2016.

The museum expansion project will cost $7 million in state funds from the Idaho State Division of Public Works. The Foundation for Idaho History is raising an additional $4 million for exhibitions.

Museum staffers have spent the last year traveling the state, gathering input from citizens to make sure Idaho’s cultures, interests, passions and significant events are reflected in the rehabbed museum’s exhibitions. They also met with the state’s five federally recognized Indian tribes, the Kootenai, Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, Shoshone-Bannock and Shoshone-Paiute. Outreach has included on-site interviews, focus groups and online surveys.

“The process has been intensive. We want to do it right, to have a statewide presence in the museum,” said Gallimore.

The new exhibitions will interpret the state geographically, Gallimore said, offering a hint at what visitors can expect in 2017.

“The unique shape of Idaho is the key story. It influenced how people lived and settled. This idea of the land and the people shaping each other over time,” she said.

Museum staff also asked patrons to rank their preferences when it comes to technology and how they want the museum to serve them, whether that’s by providing downloadable videos, digitized artifacts or even a virtual tour with a curator. Once all the surveys are complete, staff will create a set of recommendations for the museum. The report will go to the museum board, the Legislature’s budget committees and the governor for approval.

“What surprised me is people’s emotions about their part of the state and how much they love where they live,” said Gallimore. “People in Coeur d’Alene love their lake. People in the central part of the state love their mountains. People in the south and east love their communities. People were nearly in tears. It was so inspiring. We’ll get the history right, and the Idaho pride right.”

The public can look forward to conceptual designs for the enhanced museum and animations of what it will look like sometime during the upcoming legislative session, which starts in January.

Idaho Botanical Garden

The garden is about $45,000 away from reaching its $150,000 goal to build a new classroom adjacent to the cottage used for educational programs, said Executive Director Christine Wiersema. The new 1,800-square-foot building will more than double the spaces available for students in the garden’s classes from 15 to 50.

“Now, our adult classes fill up before the pamphlets are in the mail,” Wiersema said. Most of the instructors — who share their expertise on topics as diverse as making succulent wreaths and pruning — are volunteers. The garden doesn’t want to impose on their generosity by adding additional sections, she said. A bigger classroom will solve the problem.

The new space will expand educational offerings for kids, too, including a new botany-related math, science and engineering program for girls, and a class for kids to plan, plant, maintain and harvest a vegetable garden from start to finish. The new building will provide a comfortable, heated space so garden programs can take place throughout the year — even in winter, when people arguably need to be around green and growing things the most.

“We wanted to take this leap of faith and grow our education program,” said Wiersema.

Increasing the number of visitors and students at the garden will be a selling point for the garden’s next big project, she said, a capital campaign in the next five years. That project, part of the garden’s master plan, will include transforming an existing building into a visitors center and gift shop, a refurbishment of the Oppenheimer Rose Garden and a new building — site to-be-determined — to house rental space for events and additional room for educational programs.

Anna Webb: 377-6431; Twitter: @IDS_AnnaWebb

If you visit

▪  The Discovery Center of Idaho , 131 W. Myrtle St., will close intermittently over the next month to build the new Micron Innovation Lab inside the center.

▪  The hands-on science center will reopen Nov. 20 to unveil the new lab and “SuperStruct: Some Assembly Required,” a new exhibit. Call 343-9895 for more information.

▪  The Idaho Botanical Garden is at 2355 Old Penitentiary Road. Call 343-8649 for more information.

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