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WATCH | Museum to replace bridge, reorganize during 10-day break

by Lance Brownfield | September 4, 2023 at 4:05 a.m.
The wooden bridge built by Nabholz Construction in 1979 to connect the museum with the parking area will be demolished and rebuilt. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record

Now that summer guests have stopped flooding into Mid-America Science Museum and students have settled back into class, the museum is taking advantage of a small window of time for maintenance and a major construction project.

The museum will be closed from Tuesday through Sept. 16 as the inside and the outside undergo significant changes, including the removal and replacement of its iconic wooden footbridge.

"It's good to give it some renovation and some love every now and then," Casey Chandler, director of educational development at MASM, said. "So, we actually, through some generous grants, and some fundraising and some really good support from the community, are able to rebuild our bridge."

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The wooden footbridge, which connects the entrance to the museum with the main parking area, was built the same year as the building itself, 44 years ago in 1979.

"The cool thing is, it's Nabholz Construction, which I recently found out is the same company that built this way back in the '70s," said Chandler. "It's lovely that we get to keep working with the same company."

She says the bridge will be rebuilt mostly in the same design as the original, except some of the decorative beams that have no structural value may not be reinstalled.

In addition to the bridge, other outside features will be retouched, like the Skywalk, built in 2015.

On the inside, museum staff will reorganize the layout of the lower level and perform regular cleaning and maintenance projects.

"So, we try and take time every couple of years during the slowdown phase," Chandler said.

"When all the field trips are gone, they haven't really started back up yet, summer's over and we have a little bit of a quiet time, so we can get everything done in one big hit as opposed to trying to parse it out and make it last longer. That way we have less of an impact on the visitor experience."

Chandler says the electricity-based activities will be placed closer to the Dorothy Van Lue & Albert F.W. Habeeb Tesla Theater, while workshops showing Bernoulli's principles of fluid dynamics will be moved closer to the two-story water feature. In this way, the workshop gallery will be organized by theme.

Another move is the KYE-YAC Clubhouse, the area for early childhood and preschool guests, which will be relocated to a larger space. New toys and decorations will be added to the area focusing on younger learners.

Chandler said she's excited about the expansion of the clubhouse. As director of educational development, she says part of her job is to improve the museum's offerings for early childhood guests. While the museum does not have the moniker of a children's museum, she wants parents to know there is a lot available for the littlest guests and for guests of all ages.

"This is a lot of what you're going to be seeing moving forward," she said. "Is us really trying to highlight how multi-age all of our spaces are, and then making sure that those spaces are accessible and understandable and safe for even our smallest guests."

Finally, the Tinkering Studio will receive a refresh during the almost two-week hiatus.

"Brightening it up and kind of changing how we do things," said Chandler. "Bringing back some facilitated tinkers on the weekends, which will be great. Now the Tinkering Studio will be open during certain times, so we can really focus on giving quality programs and projects in there, instead of opening it all the time."

She said the museum will have information on when the Tinkering Studio will be used.

The staff at MASM will not only be busy moving and cleaning, but they will also spend some time making programs, including new ones for the Digital Dome Theatre.

"So, when the museum is closed, is a really good opportunity for us to do some recording and some voice-over," Chandler said. "So, we're actually able to create a few shows in-house, which is really exciting."

Some of the upcoming programs created in part or in whole by the museum cover the OSIRIS-REx asteroid study and sample-return mission by NASA, set to return to Earth on Sept. 24. Another show, to be completely produced by the museum, pertains to the 2024 eclipse, in which Hot Springs sits in the path of totality.

"I've had a lot of behind-the-scenes sneaks at some of the animations," says Chandler. "And it's going to be really good. We have a frog eating the sun, we have Edison trying to do science in a chicken coop and a 13-foot-tall chicken and feathers raining from the ceiling. It's more than just the sun, it's going to be really, really fun."

  photo  Casey Chandler, director of educational development at Mid-America Science Museum, shares details about the 10-day closure starting Tuesday. - Photo by Lance Brownfield of The Sentinel-Record

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