NORWICH — The Montshire Museum of Science is developing a master plan to expand the museum’s outdoor experience for a 100-acre landscape that focuses on discovery. Plans began in 2016, with completion envisioned for 2020.
“The master plan has been implemented to unify the vision of the outdoors — to maximize the opportunity of our shoulder seasons. For us, “discovery” pertains to learning science through an interactive process. When you come to visit us we make science accessible by helping people make connections to the world around us and how the world around us works,” said Marcos Stafne, executive director at the Montshire.
“Our hope is that they will go out into the world with science with a new respect and a new curiosity,” he said. “The more you know about our world and think critically, the more you’ll really be able to understand, appreciate, apply and participate.”
The master plan is expected to provide an overarching vision that will help provide framework for projects taken on in the next five, 10, 15 and 20 years and beyond.
A strategic plan is in place, developed with the help of Lemon Brooke Landscape Architecture of Concord, Massachusetts. It was approved by the Montshire board of trustees in September.
“The process of how we are and will develop includes slow, smart, and strategic pathways in figuring out how we can get more visitors to visit our outdoors and ultimately create a regional hub,” Stafne said.
The Montshire is a hands-on, interactive science center with more than 125 exhibits on nature, technology, astronomy and the physical sciences, according to the website, www.montshire.org.
“We get people sparked to learn science and we bring people together to interact together,” Stafne said. “We want people to experience the joy of science. Our indoor exhibits are constantly changing. However, we always offer bubbles, music, problem solving, and discovering our natural world. Our outdoor space is well crafted and highly interactive; an immersive environment.”
Upon completion, the 100-acre outdoor museum will include outdoor science exhibits and connect visitors to the riverfront landscape alongside the existing five-acre David Goudy Science Park, three miles of trekking trails and Woodland Garden.
“One-hundred acres is a large space for a museum; therefore one of the tricky things is to maintain and manage the space,” said Jennifer Brooke, principal at Lemon Brooke. “It’s important as designers not to over-design the project. The museum has a contract with its visitors. If over-designing were to happen, you run the risk of an exhibit being down.”
According to the Montshire’s information center, the David Goudy Science Park is a revolutionary concept in the world of science museums: using the outdoors as a living laboratory for visitors to experiment with science and appreciate the surrounding natural beauty.
The science park, which opened in 2002, features dozens of exhibits for kids to learn while getting soaking wet on hot summer days, including the Water Rill and Mist Fountain..
“One of the museum’s missions is not to just demonstrate science, but to engage their visitors — their participators in science by giving them permissions to practice being a scientist,” Brooke said.
“This expansion is not only about the outside,this is about the philosophical view of the world,” she said. “Having this additional space outside exponentially increases the visitors’ experience, making it extraordinary.”
Brooke added, “Taking science outdoors is boundless; there’s no roof, no walls — you have the sunlight, the trees moving in the wind, hills, a river, weather, those natural features can all be used and are all fundamentally science, you can’t bring those inside.”
The museum was founded 41 years ago, “and has been located on our current site since 1989, yet it was established in 1976 in Hanover, New Hampshire,” Stafne said. The museum’s success has been sustained through community engagement.
“Our master plan with partner, Lemon Brooke, takes place over a 44 week process,” he said. “We wanted our partner to see us in our many seasons and we want to make sure that what we put out on our landscape and how we develop it is really sought out through a thoughtful process.”
The master planning process began in February, and will continue through November. Project costs are undetermined. Once the master plan is completed, Marcos said his team will have a better idea of how funds will be raised.
“While some preliminary work may begin prior to 2020, we’re always working to improve our outdoor experiences, we most likely won’t be beginning a project until 2019-20,” Stafne said.
Tracy Hutchins, executive director at the Hanover Area Chamber of Commerce, said the museum helps lay the foundation for a successful future.
“The Montshire Museum is truly a treasure for the Upper Valley region and beyond,” Hutchins said. “With the emphasis on STEM education for our workforce of the future, the Montshire provides important exposure for children and families to science — showing both how exciting science can be and fostering potential career interests in our young people. Even for those who may not want eventually enter a science-based career, the Montshire allows visitors to gain a better understanding of the natural world.”