GREENSBORO — The Greensboro Science Center’s expansion is kicking into an even higher gear, as officials seek more immersive attractions, eye-catching artwork and additional opportunities to explore science and history.
Dubbed “The Gateway Project” — the latest plans would build on the already extensive expansion underway, which includes a new Malayan tiger exhibit, a carousel featuring hand-carved animals and a butterfly house, among other things.
Much of that work is being paid for using a $20 million bond issued by the city of Greensboro and the Science Center hopes city officials will consider an even bigger bond for the latest proposal.
“Given our high responsibility with the $20 million … we will ask for an increase,” CEO Glenn Dobrogosz said, noting that the Science Center matched those 2009 bond dollars 100%. He’s anticipating asking for $25 million to $30 million this time, with hopes that a new bond will be approved in 2020 or 2021.
“It’s totally up to (the City Council and) the voters, but we will state our case,” Dobrogosz said.
The Science Center began that process a few weeks ago when it unveiled its 2020-30 strategic plan to city officials, Science Center board members and the media.
A study released at the event puts the current economic impact of the Science Center at $77 million annually and shows that the number of visitors increased from 250,000 to 435,000 in the past decade.
The latest expansion is tied into the Battleground Parks District. That project interweaves the Science Center, Guilford Courthouse National Military Park, County and Jaycee parks, the Spencer Love Tennis Center, the Lewis Recreation Center, Forest Lawn Cemetery and parts of the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway. Its aim is to boost the district as a premier tourist destination.
With the additional draw of the parks district, the Science Center could potentially attract between 750,000 to 1 million annual visitors, according to the study conducted by Sage Policy Group Inc. of Baltimore, Md.
To understand what the Science Center will be asking the city to fund in the potential bond request, it helps to understand what’s already being funded. In December, the new breeding facility for the Malayan tigers is slated to open. The zoo already has permission to get its first tiger, a male, from the Jacksonville Zoo in Florida.
The new bond money would enhance that exhibit to provide giant, enclosed bridges for the tigers to traverse above visitors.
“By adding these tubes, it basically gives them the ability to extend their exhibit in these long wonderful passages,” Dobrogosz said.
Kiosk areas would provide visitors with a sense of the art and culture of Malaysia, as well as an understanding of the animals and their habitat. This would include reflective mirror tigers, “so you can see yourself and these shapes of tigers that are huge — you see yourself in there as a predator/prey relationship,” Dobrogosz said. “It’s a cool way of artistically interpreting the species.”
But it’s expensive.
“To do all that, that’s probably a good million dollars,” Dobrogosz said.
The 2020-30 plan proposes a new exhibit called “Wunderworld” that would allow guests to explore the architecture of the underground world and highlight its creatures. It also looks at the science of the subterranean world, including gems, minerals and geological formations.
In the rotunda, suspended multimedia displays would tell interactive stories from the cosmos to the center of the earth.
The “It’s a Slow World” exhibit would feature animals such as sloths and tortoises. And guests also would get an up-close look at bugs in an “Insectarium” exhibit, which explores the role insects play in our world and the engineering feats they perform.
A much larger meerkat exhibit would feature bridges allowing these small members of the mongoose family to move about above the heads of visitors. And the gibbon exhibit would gain more portals and tunnels and a new water exhibit with Asian small-clawed otters.
In another area, the Science Center’s Shark Reef would be upgraded to a new Indo-Pacific habitat, featuring interactive underwater cameras and storytellers to explain aquatic science.
And, through the use of geodesic projection domes, visitors would be able to choose to travel around the world and place themselves in the habitats of animals while learning about those living spaces.
Art also is a large part of the plan, which includes a science-inspired sculpture at the Science Center’s entrance on Lawndale Drive. With the new access provided by the Greensboro Urban Loop, officials hope it will help capture the attention of even more visitors.
Other art examples provided in The Gateway Project brochure include a modernistic sculpture of an octopus appearing to climb out of the top of the Wiseman Aquarium and a frog and butterflies atop other areas of the Science Center.
“We don’t look modern; we need to look modern,” Dobrogosz said of the new artwork.
An after-hours venue also is included in the proposal, providing opportunities for education and entertainment to a more diverse crowd. That also could include expanding the hours of the center’s treetop adventure park into the evening.
“We’re looking at maybe a nighttime Skywild, with certain lights out there,” Dobrogosz said. “We’ve heard loud and clear people want a cool place to go at night.”