Grace Fulton loves bringing her two boys to the Museum of Life and Science on Murray Avenue.
But if the two-year member runs into a situation where she has to take a shuttle again to get to the museum, she’s turning her car around to look for another place to spend the day.
For the most part, Fulton avoids such situations by arriving early, but the one time she took a shuttle because the parking lot was full was enough.
“It made it not worth it,” she said.
Museum officials hope Durham County voters will ease Fulton’s and other parents’ parking challenges, along with supporting other upgrades by voting for the $14.1 million bond in the Nov. 8 election.
The museum’s bond funding will support exhibit maintenance and upgrades across the campus, a new parking deck and improved access – including a new school group entry – and two new classrooms.
The Museum of Life and Science opened in 1946 as The Children’s Museum, a nature center in a house about a half a mile from its current location. Over the years and through public and private contributions, the museum grew into an 84-acre interactive playground with exhibits that explore wildlife, dinosaurs and nature, among other subjects.
As offerings increased, so did visitors. The 275,000 people who visited the museum in 2004 are expected to nearly double to 530,000 this fiscal year.
Revenue and grants cover 83 percent of the museum’s $8.3 million budget, while Durham County pays for the rest.
All of that money is needed to pay about 100 full-time and 40 part-time employees, along with taking care of the black bears, farm animals and lemurs and the acres of exhibits that in many cases are meant to be pulled, prodded and stomped on, said Julie Ketner Rigby, the museum’s vice president for external relations.
“Because we are offering so much experience, what we don’t have are funds for major capital improvements,” she said.
About $7 million of the bond funding will help the museum expand its parking capacity by up to 375 spaces. From spring to fall, the museum shuttled visitors from Brogden Middle School about 100 days. Those trips cost about $50,000.
The museum is planning a three-story parking deck on the southern side of Murray Avenue, where groups check in and buses park. The deck wouldn’t cut into the museum’s existing 370 spaces, but would replace facility’s maintenance building that would be moved to the main campus.
The museum just finished a 2,000 square-foot classroom on the south side of Murray Avenue, which looks out onto Ellerbe Creek. Officials want to build two more classrooms in the wooded spot for summer camps, meetings and other programming events. Then they would take two existing classroom in the main building and use them for more exhibit floor space.
That space is sorely needed, Rigby said, because when it rains, strollers, parents and kids fill up the building quickly.
About $2.1 million will be used to maintain, update and infuse new exhibits in the Dinosaur Trail, Explore the Wild, (a six-acre woodland habitat with bears, red wolves, lemurs and a wetland site) and Catch the Wind (an outdoor exhibit that explores wind’s contribution to the earth) and other exhibits.
Those changes could include adding another dinosaur to the trail, possibly one where kids could climb up to get a bird’s eye view, building a floating walkway over the wetlands and nature trails, along with indoor programming that explores film-making, robotics and engineering.
“Our challenge on our end in providing these experiences is to keep looking at how we can insert and infill and create this continued sense of suspension and wonder,” said Roy Griffiths, vice president for exhibits and planning.
Other bonds on the ballot
▪ Durham Public Schools’ $90 million bond would support replacing Northern High School ($51.9 million) on its current site and renovating Eno Valley Elementary ($7.3 million). The funds would also support systemwide security and safety measures, roofing upgrades, HVAC system upgrades, lighting upgrades, renovations and repairs to high school athletic facilities and improvements projects.
▪ Durham Tech’s $20 million bond would support a 45,000 to 60,000 square-foot expansion of the Newton Technology Center, which would allow consolidation of construction trades and industrial systems programs, technology upgrades and modernization of electrical, electronics and engineering technologies programs. It would also allow the college to expand capacity to train hybrid and diesel mechanics.
▪ The Main Library’s $43.3 million renovation would support a 20,000 square-foot expansion and a complete reconfiguration. The remodeled building on Roxboro Street downtown would have lots of glass and a circulation that spills out into the community with a porch area, rooftop terrace and art garden.