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Changes delay Discovery Reef's opening
At Virginia Museum of Natural History

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

By ELIZA WINSTON - Bulletin Staff Writer

A change in plans for the Hooker Furniture Discovery Reef at the Virginia Museum of Natural History has delayed its opening, but museum officials believe the end product will be more fun for the young and young at heart.

VMNH spokesman Ryan Barber said museum officials originally planned to allow visitors to preview the Discovery Reef by this Saturday. However, due to a change in the construction plan, the room will open to the public at 9 a.m. Aug. 26.

With the company's consent, the museum's former Hooker Furniture Corp. Theater is being transformed into the Hooker Furniture Discovery Reef, a room that will allow children to play and learn about the undersea world through hands-on activities.

All visitors to the museum on Aug. 26 will be able to view the Discovery Reef and other museum exhibits free of charge. In addition, the closing time of the museum will be extended to 7 p.m. that day so that parents who get off work at 5 p.m. will have time to take their families to the Discovery Reef, Barber said.

The Discovery Reef will include a wooden play set designed to look like an abandoned ship on the sea floor. Kids will be able to climb, slide and explore the ship wreck, Barber said.

The original plans called for it to go on the room's back wall, but new plans will expand the play set and position it in the front of the room. The ship wreck will have several levels, and while Barber said it is designed for children aged 8 and younger, it will be strong enough to accommodate all ages, including parents.

The room also will offer an underwater-themed puppet show, he said. The puppet show's backdrop will be designed to look like a coral reef, and children will be able to play with puppets and create their own stories.

VMNH Executive Director Joe Keiper said employees at the museum have been working on the Discovery Reef for several months. Since the museum moved from Douglas Avenue to Starling Avenue, officials often hear from members of the public who wonder why the new facility doesn't include a room designated for children, as the older building did, he said.

The Discovery Reef will fill that void and will be a good place for families to gather, Barber said. He added that food and drinks will be allowed in the room.

Once the Discovery Reef is complete, the museum may continue to turn other infrequently used areas into permanent hands-on exhibits. Keiper said a reception area on the second floor may become a permanent dinosaur exhibit.

Barber said that when the current exhibit "Messages from the Mesozoic" comes down, staff members will decide if any of its signs or displays could be used in the future dinosaur-related exhibit. There is no timeline for that project, but different options will be explored after September, Keiper said.

Although the Discovery Reef will not open this weekend, the museum's annual Reptile Day festival still is set for Saturday, Barber said.


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