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Discovery Park back on track as architects, others chart course

Discovery Park back on track as architects, others chart course

Posted: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:07 pm
By: Glenda H. Caudle Special Features Editor

Discovery Park back on track as architects, others chart course | Discovery Park back on track as architects, others chart course
 By GLENDA H. CAUDLE Special Features Editor They are telling their story. And their audience is all they could hope for and more. Members of the long-standing theme committees for Discovery Park of America have been bringing some new friends up to date on the place they call home — that place they hope to celebrate and share with guests from across the nation and even around the world. The folks eager to assist them in that adventurous project include architects, exhibit designers and exhibit builders, along with an economic resources expert who claims an impressive history of assisting small regional museums make the most of their assets. The group arrived in Union City Monday and spent Tuesday visiting the current home of the Obion County Museum and the Obion County Public Library. And they listened and listened and listened some more — proving themselves to be most excellent champions of the local vision. DPA encompasses the centerpiece museum, the surrounding botanical gardens and the Yesteryear Village project planned for a 50-acre plot in Union City’s northwest quadrant. The acrage, which was purchased in 2007 as the future site of the proposed education-entertainment-tourism complex, was the location of a groundbreaking ceremony in July 2008. Work was then begun on the museum by local contractor David Searcy to fulfill the dream of Robert and Jenny Kirkland of Union City, whose foundation is underwriting the multi-million dollar project. Since that time, the foundation and the first architect for the project have parted company and little has been done beyond the initial ground work on the plot of ground across Everett Boulevard from Union City Second Baptist Church. A tentative plan for the DPA grounds layout was supplied by a Memphis firm in late 2009 and the search for a new building architect continued. Just recently, the decision was made to place the entire project — museum building and grounds — in the hands of a single design manager. Foundation chairman Jim Rippy introduced Verner Johnson Museum Architects and Planners of Boston as the board of directors’ choice to bring the undertaking to fruition soon after the turn of the new year. The company’s president, Louis Sirianni, and its managing principal, Brad Nederhoff, visited the area two weeks ago, along with landscape architect Ritchie Smith of Ritchie Smith Associates in Memphis, civil engineer Robert J. Safin of TLM Associates Inc. in Jackson and Curt Cederquist, vice president of museum sales for Maltbie Exhibits of Mount Laurel, N.J. The latter constructs exhibits for museums. At the time, the group met at the DPA building site, along with Kirkland, Rippy, Searcy and Jim Carmichael, project manager for Allen Searcy Builder Contractor, and discussed some preliminary issues. When Sirianni, Nederhoff and Cederquist returned this week, they came in the company of Tom Hennes, Julie Chung and Madeline Chinnici of THINC Design from New York, whose job will be to put the local committees’ stories together, organize their message and design its presentation; and Elaine Carmichael of Economic Stewardship Inc. in Sturgeon Bay, Wis., who will be working with DPA finance committee chairman Al Creswell of Alexander Thompson Arnold PLLC in Union City to maximize funding for the project. On Tuesday those professionals, who have built their reputations in many other locations and on a variety of ambitious museum projects, turned their attention to DPA in Obion County. Hugh Wade, representing the Military History Committee for DPA, took them on a tour of the current museum on Edwards Street in Union City, where he proudly displayed an ever-enlarging and impressive collection of items associated with defending this nation. The former church sanctuary that has been the home of the county museum for the past few years is bulging at the seams with Wade’s many finds and he used that fact to plead for larger quarters as the design for the museum gets under way. He sweetened the request with some fascinating stories about objects on display and people who had provided them. Wade’s was not the only voice to claim the visitors’ attention, however. The afternoon’s business began with a conference with Betsy Henderson, representing the food service/catering/kitchens committee of DPA. While Mrs. Henderson’s square footage in the museum will be devoted to satisfying a hunger and thirst for refreshment rather than knowledge and entertainment, her committee’s needs and preferences will be high on the list of items to attend to by the architects. Next on the list were members of the Science/Space/Technology/Medical Committee. University of Tennessee at Martin professor Lionel Crews was joined by his co-chairman and former teacher Sandra Bagwell and committee member Kim Crews, who is also a former teacher currently working on a special “education-oriented” project at Reelfoot Lake. They made their case for a variety of hands-on science exhibits that would engage learners young and old, including ideas to show how science ties in to real life experiences. Former teachers Nancy Baldridge and Joyce Stephens, children’s minister Lori Eilers and Jan Rankin, members of the Exploration Committee, shared their hopes for exhibits throughout the museum and grounds that would be valuable learning experiences for children. Their wish-list includes a huge model of the human body with space enough for children to climb inside and see just how things are working under their own skins. Members of the Regional History Committee, whose primary focus is Reelfoot Lake, closed out the day with a delegation of eight, including committee chair Terry Huffstetler and his wife, Jane; Ms. Crews; retired UTM biology professor Wintfred Smith, who continues in the process of an exhaustive study of the lake; Obion County’s longtime historian and author of a book about the lake’s Nightriders, Rebel Forrester; Union City historian and descendant of the city’s founder John Bell and his wife, Jean; and Reelfoot Lake subcommittee chairman Jennifer Barnes. Even longtime area residents who attended the meeting learned some fascinating history about the lake and heard some favorite tales relegated to the role of legend during that committee’s session. “(The chance) to explore something passionately is a gift we can give to museum visitors,” Hennes said at day’s end as he summed up the efforts of the committees whose work he had been reviewing. He also cautioned the area volunteers against thinking of themselves as “simply amateurs.” “Your amateurism is something to be tapped into. Everyone who will ‘use’ this place will be an amateur in some way,” said the exhibits planner. “Over the next two weeks, we will be developing an overall perspective and working on a plan to be more fully developed when we have talked to all the committees. We’ll be taking in as much as we can and feeding back what we think we have heard. Then we’ll begin to clump things together and prioritize them and give them back to you.” Today, the listening will continue as representatives of the Natural History, Botanical Gardens, Native Americans, Enlightenment, Alternative Energy and YesterYear committees, along with the Gift Shop planners, bend the ears of those who will give substance and style to the dreams they have shared over the past two years. Tomorrow, the experts depart, with plans to return in late February with a first look at their general layout. Looking to the future, Hennes added, “When Discovery Park of America is open, people should be able to come back an infinite number of times and always have a different experience.” As story builds upon story from the committees and the willing listeners help local residents uncover the fascinating tales they still have to tell, the goal seems attainable. Published in The Messenger 1.27.10

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