Multi-million dollar expansion at the Greensboro Science Center

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Greensboro Science Center is renovating the indoor museum and doubling its outdoor zoo, all combined with new technology and interactive elements for families.

The nonprofit hit record attendance last year with more than 430,000 visitors. Executive Director Glenn Dobrogosz hopes they’ll reach half a million this year.

Monday, he shared plans for future stages of growth at the Science Center.

“Sciquarium was under construction and we were exhausted from that! But you have no choice. You have to be looking forward. People want to see more, faster, better, bigger all the time,” he said.

They are looking forward to opening SkyWild, an adventure for visitors involving zip lines and a ropes course in the tree tops above the zoo.

But that’s just the beginning of new exhibits.

Dobrogosz said some parts of the museum have been the same since the 1970s. Renovations starting next year will involve modernizing that section.

Ron Settle, curator of public programs, shared three new areas of the museum that will help science come to life.

One is called “Prehistoric Passages: Realm of Dragons.”

“You’ll enter through a wormhole traveling back in time,” Settle explained. “But some of the features will be bringing dinosaurs into the present. Here, for instance, we’ve got a triceratops making its way through Center City Park downtown,” he pointed to an interactive iPad application demonstrating their vision for the exhibit.

“Visitors will be able to use their own smartphones, aim at an exhibit and features that aren’t visible to the naked eye will appear through the window of your smart device,” he added.

Settle said, for example, a visitor might point his or her smart phone at a dinosaur egg and see a video of the egg hatching and baby dinosaur coming to life.

They also plan to incorporate holographic cases that can hold fossils and come to life in 3D active images.

The museum will house komodo dragons, a first in North Carolina, along with huge robotic dragonflies flying above.

“Wunderworld: Denizens of the Dark” will be a biological and geological exhibit allowing visitors to explore subterranean areas.

“We’re going to make the area come to life with all kinds of subterranean creatures like scorpions, snakes,” Settle said.

A third area is designed as “SciPlay Bay,” specifically for the youngest scientists.

“We are talking about small children so as they explore the undersea world, we’ll have characters that are going to be able to talk to them,” Settle said.

It will feature a submarine structure kids can climb on and a kite-flying simulation section.

Dobrogosz said SkyWild and museum renovations will happen over the next two years, costing $5-6 million.

The following stage is the biggest — doubling the size of the Animal Discovery Zoo outside from 12 to nearly 24 acres. That will cost an estimated $10 million.

Dobrogosz said the newest zoo section, “Rainbow River Gorge,” will highlight the sights, sounds, colors and survival of endangered species.

“We hand-selected some really amazing animals that will make their debut here in North Carolina,” Dobrogosz revealed.

Those new animals will include okapi, a small giraffe found in the Congo, snow leopards, pygmy hippos and cassowary birds. The Nile crocodile and tigers already in the zoo will be moved to the new area, too.

“Instead of walking through a zoo going exhibit to exhibit to exhibit, you’re going to be immersed in a realm. Waterfalls all around you, mist and natural rainbows.”

The ventures will all open up additional jobs at the nonprofit.

Construction will be funded by a combination of private donors and a $20 million bond citizens passed by a vote in 2009.

“A lot of people think when the Sciquarium opened that we used up all the bond money. We only used 50 percent. So we still have 50 percent of the money to go, and no doubt we’re looking into a private campaign of some form that will help supplement that,” Dobrogosz explained.

He said research estimated the Science Center would have a $25 million economic impact on the community per year when it reached the attendance numbers they hit last year.

But it’s about more than just the bottom line for him and his staff.

“Hopefully, the diminishing number of college students we see going into the science will start to go up as people are inspired by life around them.”

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