- Associated Press - Sunday, February 2, 2014

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Diane LaFollette, executive director of Mid-America Science Museum, gave an overview of a multi-million renovation to the museum that will begin later this year to members of the Hot Springs National Park Rotary Club.

LaFollette, who is celebrating her one-year anniversary at the museum, told her fellow Rotarians during their weekly noon meeting at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa that working at the museum is a dream come true for her.

Late last year, the museum reached its goal of raising $1.6 million in matching funds in order to receive a $7.8 million grant from the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, which will be used to renovate the entire museum and install new exhibits.

LaFollette said the renovations will actually begin in the parking lot with new paving, and new signs with a new logo that will help re-brand the museum, and then move into the front part of the museum.

“We’re going to reconfigure the whole upper gallery. When you come into the museum now, you sometimes feel that you have to wait until you cross the (internal) bridge before you enter the museum,” she told The Sentinel-Record.

“What we’re going to do is open that (initial) space up, knock out a wall, and put in an elevator so people will have access to the cafe without having to go all the way around the museum,” she said.

LaFollette said the enlarged area of the museum will house the Forces in Motion gallery, one of the new exhibits.

“That way you won’t feel like you have to wait until you cross that bridge before you get to start to experience the museum. You can do it right off the bat,” she said.

She said the Forces in Motion exhibits will incorporate basic sciences involving wave motion, magnetism, electricity, momentum and conservation of energy.

In addition to the Forces in Motion gallery, new classrooms will be added to the upper floor area so that more students and teachers can be served, LaFollette said.

Other exhibits in the front part of the museum will include a peanut fountain, which is a large bowl filled with Styrofoam packing peanuts and a rheostat controlled fan at the bottom so users can try to make the peanuts hover by varying the speed of the fan.

“A lot of the exhibits we’ll have in the new museum will be prototypes that you won’t see anywhere else. The peanut fountain is one of them,” LaFollette said.

She said museum officials have had a little difficulty trying to determine what the Arkansas Gallery, another new area, should contain “since there are so many wonderful agencies that do a really good job on geology and geography.”

“Missouri and Arkansas have the two largest cave formations in the country, and we have the large crystal that was found at Jessieville, and the replica of the actual mastodon skeleton that was found in Arkansas. When you think about that, all those things come out of the soil, so it has become the ‘gallery of dirt’ — we don’t say that out in public, but that’s what we say inside — and it’s about the kind of things that happen in Arkansas, not just about the geographical region, or the hot springs, although those things are important. It’s also about life that comes out of the earth,” she said.

The lower floor of the museum will also house the Digital Dome, which LaFollette said is “an exciting piece of this renovation.”

The domed theatre will seat 50 people with a 180-degree dome ceiling on which movies can be shown.

“We have thousands and thousands of titles and topics available to us that are educational only. These are 15- to 20-minute films specific to whatever topic we want to teach or exhibits we have in the museum.

Another new feature at the museum will be the Bob Wheeler Science Skywalk, which will extend about 230 feet into the forest canopy from the main building, and will be about 30 feet high at its highest point.

LaFollette said last week that visitors should start to see some of the exterior work start in the next few weeks. The museum will close in mid-August for the interior renovations and open again in March 2015.


Information from: The Sentinel-Record, https://www.hotsr.com

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