By Jan Worth-Nelson
With calls from many dignitaries to champion science and history and ignite a passion for learning among Flint kids, ground was broken this week for a $26 million renovation and expansion of the Sloan Museum on the Flint Cultural Center Campus, 1221 E. Kearsley St.
Renamed the Sloan Museum of Discovery, the facility will include a new early childhood gallery, a 10,000-square-foot hands-on science “Discovery Hall,” a 11,000- square foot revamped history gallery, a new “Vehicle City” automative gallery, with cars from the existing Buick Gallery moved into the main building, a cafe, new gift shop and three new learning labs.
The Discovery Hall “will engage visitors in earth and physical science exploration, featuring a three-story Spaceship Earth exhibit” and a maker space, officials said.
The museum’s Perry Archives also will be moved inside the main museum, allowing for increased access to research services, with an adjacent reading room for the Flint Genealogical Society.
The Early Childhood Gallery for play-based learning for ages 0 to 6 is being developed in collaboration with the Genesee County Head Start program.
According to Sloan officials, the new facilities will increase capacity for field trip programs from about 60,000 to about 90,000 students per year.
Expressing delight about the major step forward, Todd Slisher, Sloan Museum executive director, said the museum is expected to open by late 2021.
Acknowledging an audience full of contributors, contractors, foundation heads and local leaders, Slisher noted, “A lot of work with community focus and advisory groups went into shaping the final outcome.”
Coming off a blockbuster week during which the Mott Community College Culinary Arts Institute opened and General Motors announced a new $150 million investment at the Flint Assembly Plant, Mayor Karen Weaver said “the excitement continues,” and noting the Sloan expansion will “add to the resilience of our children” and help the city relive its “rich history and tradition.”
Slisher said 85 percent of the $26 million needed for the project has been raised, with $4 million more to go. He noted donations can be made at DiscoverSloan.org. and announced a Patronicity crowdfunding campaign would begin soon.
Immediately thereafter, C.S. Mott Foundation President and CEO Ridgway White announced a two-for-one match up to $1 million for funds received through the end of the year for the project.
Major donors include a pantheon of some of the city’s biggest players or those with historical links: the Mott Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation , the Hagerman Foundation, General Motors, Jeff and Annett Rowe, the Whiting Foundation, the Graff Family Foundation, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, the Isabel Foundation, the Consumers Energy Foundation, the Hurand Family and the Serra Family Foundation.
Both Slisher and White stated no funds from the $8.7 million/year Arts and Culture millage approved by Genesee County voters last August would be used for the project.
However, Slisher said, the millage funds, of which about $1.8 million a year are expected to go to Sloan/Longway Planetarium, will allow the museum to offer free general admission to all Genesee County residents.
The Flint water crisis echoed in the motivation for improving education opportunities for children. Sue Peters, vice president of community impact at the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, reminded the crowd that “The water crisis impacted the entire community–especially our kids,” and noted the community’s concern that children be granted “the best opportunities to thrive and be successful.”
Becky Gaskin, executive director of the Hagerman Foundation, said the new facility highlights “hand-on discovery,” critical thinking and problem solving for kids. She noted the combination of family-friendly design and attention to early childhood growth and development provided a “sweet spot” between the expanding facility’s potential and the Hagerman Foundation’s goals.
White said the Sloan project represents “an investment in the future of our children” by providing an experience that is “interactive, exciting, a link to the school curriculum, and ignites the spark to become a lifelong learner.”
He noted that for many Flint kids, Sloan is “the only museum experience that they have” and that, because of the arts millage, there will be “no barriers to entry.”
State Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, a Flint resident who lives within walking distance of the museum, said the Sloan project “aligns the goals of the state–making education a top priority” and aiming to get the state in the top 10 in education nationally. (According to U.S. News, it is presently ranked 37th.)
Adam Falk, president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation on his first visit to Flint, noted that increasing the public’s understanding of science and technology is “incredibly important” and said the Foundation was impressed by how the Sloan’s approach combined science and the humanities.
“They aren’t two worlds — it’s all one world,” he said, adding that art helps bring science to life.
Jeff Rowe, retired vice president of Diplomat Pharmacy and longtime Flint resident, called the Sloan Museum “a gem of Genesee County” and said he had brought his children and now grandchildren to the cultural center many times.
Lauding the Museum’s commitment to enhancing children’s love of science and the the history of the area, Rowe said the expansion is “the right project at the right time in the right place.”
Architect/designer for the project is Haizlip Studios from Memphis, Tennessee. Slisher said the firm was selected from a competitive bid process where five firms around the country were invited to submit proposals.
He said Haizlip is a “museum speciality firm” that has designed more than 40 museums around the country, including the Children’s Museums of both Memphis and South Dakota, the Barnum Museum, The Tunica Museum, Beale Street Landing, The Arkansas River Valley Nature Center and others.
THA Architects of Flint are partnering with Haizlip, and E&L Construction Group, Inc., the same group, with THA as architect and engineers for the adjoining Flint Cultural Center Academy, are general contractors.
Slisher said E&L was selected from a competitive bid process that drew bids from seven firms.
During construction, the Sloan still is open at its temporary headquarters at Courtland Center Mall. More information available at sloanlongway.org and at 810-237-3450.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.