The Science Museum of Western Virginia recently reopened and most of the $27 million in renovations were complete. Seeing as we are members, making the trip "free," this seemed a perfect solution to our rainy day troubles.
Let me start by saying we had a fine time. With all the good things I have to say out of the way, we can move on to everything else.
What struck me the most was that, by and large, not a whole heck of a lot had changed. Many of those exhibits you loved pre-renovation? Still there!
The living river? Exactly the same!
The huge mouth? You bet!
The gem gallery? Sort of. It seems they decided to make it smaller.
The weather forecast green screen? Still in action.
There were many more re-treads all over the place. But what they didn't bring back was one of the kids' favorite things - all the hands on exhibits. Maybe they are poised for a dramatic re-entry but so far, MIA.
So this begs the question, what did we get for that $27 million?
The first notable new item was an area on parasites.
The whole area was carnival themed and true to its inspiration, completely overwhelming and loud. All around you were installations that blared information constantly, making any one part difficult to hear. Not to mention, they were all voiced by Carrot Top.
Just when you thought the circus atmosphere couldn't get worse, you realize that his voice is following you all over. Excellent.
The other new part was the butterfly garden. Now this was fine, I suppose. The one thing that made this location notable and different from other such gardens I've seen is that they allowed the visitors to pursue the butterflies and try to get them on to your fingers. Now you couldn't touch the wings but you could poke and prod the feet of every insect you could reach.
Maybe I'm wrong, but those poor butterflies just seemed harassed. And while it was a perfectly nice area, I can't see that we would be inclined to go back often, especially as it had an added $2 per person cost. Makes on wonder how they will support their $1,000 per week cost of procuring new specimens.
One last point, that is admittedly pretty minor, was this room:
The free ranger in me just balked. Sure kids, come on in but your parents will need to closely overlook your fun and, for goodness sake, don't have so much fun that you want to stay! But the point is moot seeing as my children, who went in alone and unsupervised, creating a stir among the other kids who also wanted to be set free, didn't find the room to contain anything that compelling.
Then, it what will really be the last point, honest, when you walked up to the door to exit, you are re-directed ten feet to your right, where must exit through the gift shop, your path then intersecting with what your original exit would have been if left to your own devices. The employee that day was not at all amused when I told my kids that we don't buy anything, ever, from shops we are forced to enter.
So yeah, $27 million. Now some of this did go to other parts of the Center in the Square building and there is a lovely fish tank in the lobby but I would say it seems like we got ripped off. Why, you might ask, did so little come of so much money? It is just one girl's opinion, but all that money came from other people. $9 million in donations and $18 million in state and federal grants. When you are being handed "free" money, why on earth would you feel any pressure to use it wisely? Why would you think in business terms about a good, financially sustainable project? Quite simply, you don't. And you end up with this, which in many ways, is no better than it was pre-renovation.