The Danville Science Center reopened this week for the first time since March 13, boasting a $9 million renovation that personnel are excited to share with the public.
Executive Director Adam Goebel told the Star-Tribune Thursday afternoon that the new exhibits have been very well-received.
"We have 10,000 square feet of brand new, one-of-a-kind, state-of-the-art exhibition space," Goebel said. "We had a great crowd Saturday and a great crowd Sunday. We are really excited to have people back. It' a breath of fresh air after seven months."
The museum is following a strict pandemic-friendly regimen that adheres to CDC and Virginia Department of Health guidelines, including the requirement of a face mask for those aged 5 and older, increased frequency cleaning high-touch surfaces, limiting the number of families in an exhibit at a given time and cleaning up "literally as families are leaving," several times every hour, with additional deep cleans multiple times per day.
There are also sanitizing stations posted throughout the museum and adequate signage to follow social distancing guidelines.
Museums, zoos, aquariums and cultural attractions are operating the same as before Northam announced new COVID-19 restrictions last week, at an allowed capacity of 50 percent. The museum, however, self-imposes a safer rule that limits occupancy to about 30 percent.
"We were very, very happy to bring guests back in for first time since March," Goebel said. "We were really excited to bring people in here in the best and safest way possible."
Goebel demonstrated several high-tech activities in the museum's newest exhibits. A new gallery downstairs focuses on water, an abundant resource that is all too easily overlooked and can be studied through virtually every lens of science.
"A lot of people think, 'I know water, that's what we drink.'" he explained. "Do you really know water?"
Interactive exhibits explore water through the lens of such scientific disciplines as space exploration, environmental education, oceanography and biology.
"In the rain maze, you can use technology and engineering to walk through a cylinder of rain without getting wet," Goebel demonstrated. "That's been very popular. I'm surprised how well it's gone over."
Goebel also showed off a huge wall comprised of 2,400 commercial-sized water bottles that is used for data visualization. The bottles are illuminated with dozens of pre-recorded lessons that visualize environmental principals in such a way that, Goebel says, "You won't even realize you're learning."
"If you leave with more questions than you arrived with, I will have done my job," Goebel said.
The other new gallery upstairs consists of over 5,000 square feet of activities that explore the intersectionality of the human body and the physical through kinesthetic experiences that get people up and active.
"It's a lot of exhibits designed to show how science is relative to people's everyday lives," Goebel said. "It connects people to the science around them. It is a perspective-changing experience as opposed to a formal learning experience."
"We worked literally for the last 14 months to design these to be very open-ended," he continued. "Each time you explore with these exhibits, you get a different result or outcome based on how you interact with it. There is always a reason to come back. To out-compete yourself, your family members, your classmates through a number of different experiences."
Goebel urges patrons to plan their visit safely and make sure to postpone their trip to the science center if they believe they may be sick.
"Science drives what we know about COVID-19," he said. "We have absolutely embraced the science provided by the CDC and VDH because priority No. 1 is the safety of our visitors, volunteers and staff."