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story.lead_photo.caption NEW HEIGHTS: Jackson Boston and Koehn Cartright play on the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk at Mid-America Science Museum during the Summer Science Smash on Aug. 25. Voters on Sept. 11 approved a $2 million bond issue to add a new exhibition hall.

Hot Springs voters approved a $2 million bond issue Tuesday to fund construction of a free-standing exhibition hall at Mid-America Science Museum that can house national traveling exhibits.

As of presstime, Garland County Election Commission Chairman Gene Haley said 997 voted "for" the bond issue while 517 voted "against" it.

The bonds will be repaid using proceeds from the existing 3-cent advertising and promotion tax that is levied on prepared food and lodging within the city limits of Hot Springs. Supporters stressed during the campaign that passage of the bond issue did not entail the passage of a new tax.

Construction of the 7,000-square-foot exhibition gallery will make Mid-America the largest venue for science exhibits in the state, museum officials say. Five thousand square feet of the facility will serve as exhibition space while 2,000 square feet will be used for utilities. The exhibit hall will have separate temperature and humidity controls to accommodate Smithsonian Institution exhibits.

The free-standing facility will be built on the west side of the museum's campus and connected to the current building only by a covered walkway.

Diane LaFollette, the museum's executive director, said building a new exhibit hall has been a long-term dream of the museum's staff and board since the previous renovation was completed in 2015.

"When I got here, the grant had already been written and some of the design had been done in the main gallery, which was great," she said. "I think it was a great design and I love it, but we all knew what was coming. We all knew we weren't going to be able to have that big space for the larger exhibits.

"So, right then and there is when we started talking to different organizations and foundations about funding an addition onto it and it's just taken a while to put all of that together. It's been a dream of ours for five years and this has been an opportunity to make it happen and we are so excited about that."

LaFollette said the board and her team hope to have the new structure open by Labor Day of 2019, meaning first steps toward completing the project will begin within a few days.

"We're going to start our process and hopefully get it open by Labor Day," she said. "We're looking at Labor Day as an estimate. And the good thing is that's also going to be our 40th anniversary year so we're going to have some great celebrations in there and look at what exhibits we can bring in. That's something we're going to start looking at the next day, too, is what exhibits will be available that we can bring in this first year."

The construction committee, she said, has been meeting with architects and engineers on this project in order to build a proposal and budget based on accurate numbers.

"So we'll get them all back together again," LaFollette said. "We've got a couple of board members who have been in on this from the beginning, which was about five years ago, so they're all well versed in what we want to do. I think the startup period will be so short that we'll be able to start digging into the ground before too long.

"We'll probably call a meeting within a week and get started. We want to get it open in during our 40th year so it's very important that we get it going."

Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said the approval of the bond issue made Tuesday "a great day for our community."

"The citizens of Hot Springs have once again recognized what a treasure Mid-America Science Museum is for our community and realized the great impact that it will not only have on our children but our economy in the future," he said. "It's a great opportunity and I can't wait to see how the Mid-America Science Museum takes advantage of it. I think Diane and her staff, the whole campaign team, did a great job in informing the public of just what the issue was."

LaFollette said the success of the campaign has taken several people in the community supporting it.

"This doesn't happen with just a couple of people," she said. "There's been an army of people that have worked long and hard, many hours.

"Hot Springs is really fortunate to have such devotion to the museum. The museum is fortunate to have Hot Springs here because they love them so much and there's so much history here with the different generations that come to visit. ... It's just become a staple of family life here. We're excited about that, but I'm really excited about being able to repay that loyalty and that love with bringing in some new experiences and some really cool exhibits."

Local on 09/12/2018

Print Headline: Voters OK museum bonds

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