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‘Plane’ but not simple, new Discovery exhibit getting off the ground

‘Plane’ but not simple, new Discovery exhibit getting off the ground

Posted: Wednesday, June 23, 2010 9:03 pm
By: Glenda Caudle, Special Features Editor

By GLENDA CAUDLE
Special Features Editor
It didn’t matter if you were a “plane” old fan of flight or a lover of earth-bound adventure, intent on some new “Discovery.”
Everett-Stewart Regional Airport was the place to be — despite summertime’s best effort at a mid-morning heat attack — Tuesday.
Some 300 guests from Obion, Weakley and Lake counties and beyond — including several World War II veterans — occupied most of the chairs and a substantial part of the standing room at the airport’s hangar. They were there to welcome a Boeing Stearman PT-17 plane that will be a major exhibit at Discovery Park of America and to see the new plans for the 50-acre, multi-million dollar project being funded, in large part, by Union City residents Robert E. and Jenny D. Kirkland through their foundation.
The plane is like the ones used to train cadets at the former Embry-Riddle Field, which today is the site of the region’s most impressive airport, located between Union City and Martin. It was located and purchased by DPA’s Military History Committee of volunteers and was flown from Virginia to Tennessee by Mike Rinker of Union City to be showcased at Tuesday’s celebration.
Getting under way
Many of those with a war-time connection to the airfield had seats of honor and were recognized for their service just before DPA chairman and local businessman Jim Rippy came forward to provide some basic information about the project that has attracted excited attention since the fall of 2007. In his remarks, he noted that the Discovery Center showplace has grown from 70,000 square feet of exhibit space to 100,000 square feet, with the Transportation and Military History committees receiving a large portion of that new area for their favorite finds. He also said the lawsuit with DPA’s first architect, Canadian Douglas Cardinal, who came to a parting of the ways with the board of directors just over a year ago, had been settled and the local project is in lawful possession of the plans drawn up on that watch. That means the rather extensive foundation and dirt work that had been done at the site between the under-construction I-69 and Everett Boulevard, in Union City’s northwest quadrant, can be utilized in the new building.
He also provided some projected dates that will hopefully prove significant when the history of the project is told — site work will begin on the new plan in August, work on Discovery Center will get under way in March 2011, exhibits will be moved into the facility in June 2012 and the doors will open in October 2012.
Rippy mentioned some of the exhibit material that has already been purchased or donated, including a working grist mill located in the area around Sevierville, where it had been moved and put into operation from its original home in Virginia. The big wheel for that major outdoor water feature had been brought to the airport and put on display and was accompanied by a nearly-completed scale model of the proposed exhibit built by Historic Farm and Town Center committee member and skilled craftsman Wilbur Brewer of Weakley County. Brewer will also be constructing the actual grist mill building, using only pegs to hold it together.
The project’s chairman also called attention with pride and excitement to some other recently-acquired items that will find a home at Discovery Park of America, including a log cabin purchased just last week, 12 dinosaurs, the Stearman plane and an impressive addition to the already-extensive Indian artifact collection.
He then introduced some of those with special roles to play at DPA, including:
• the project’s new architects — Louis Sirianni and Brad Nederhoff of Verner Johnson Museum Architects and Planner from Boston;
• the project’s new landscape architectural team — Ritchie Smith and Lissa Thompson of Ritchie Smith Associates of Memphis;
• the project’s exhibit designers — Tom Hennes, Julie Chung and Madeline Chinnici from Thinc Design of New York;
• the project’s exhibit builder — Curt Cederquist of Maltbie Museum Management/Exhibits of New Jersey;
• the project’s advisor on staffing and costs — Elaine Carmichael of Economic Stewardship Inc. of Wisconsin;
• the project’s “check writer,” Jenny Kirkland of Union City; and
• the project’s originator and major supporter (and his best friend) — Robert Kirkland of Union City
Man with a vision
Kirkland’s time at the mic centered on praise for those who are making his dream come true — his wife, the members of the volunteer planning committees who have been proposing ideas and working with architects and exhibit planners to shape the unique project, DPA’s board of directors and members of the Obion County Museum board of directors. Without the commitment of the latter group over the last 30-50 years, he said, Discovery Park of America could not come into being, because there would have been nothing to draw on.
DPA’s “founding father” stressed the three functions of the project: education (“If we succeed in that, I will be pleased.”); entertainment (“That component will help us educate”); and tourism (“If we succeed at all three, we will have hit a real home run.”).
“What I would like to see is a message spreading beyond our community and all across the state, and it is this: ‘You can do something great in your own back yard,’” Kirkland added. “We have some great needs around here. For instance, there are never enough educators to go around, it seems — even though we have dedicated teachers and much-improved schools over the last few years. But if DPA can add a spark, we will have done our job.”
The “world-traveled” business man who has always called Union City home said he was as excited about Discovery Park of America now as he was two years ago and thought the project would be a great one, thanks to all the volunteers who were helping make it so.
Design team
Those charged with putting together the dream in a tangible form had their turn at the podium Tuesday, as well.
Sirianni told the crowd: “The first time I met with the executive committee for DPA, I tried hard to impress them with the designs and buildings and diverse programs we had been part of. But I found that we were actually the ones who were impressed — by the interest and vision for something as good as anything you can find in this country. Discovery Park of America is a noble venture. As we met more of you, we realized your aspirations were shared by so many and that inspired us. When you see our design, you will see soaring lines and light and uplifting features — all of that came from your community. If the visitors who will come are engaged and leave the exhibits and head home with a sense of joy, we will have been successful.”
“This is a dream project for an architect,” Nederhoff added. “We were one of 70 firms that were interested. We loved the idea because of the commitment to the dramatic. This is a beautiful natural area and we wanted to create something that people would never expect to see here — something that would match the Kirklands’ goal.”
A large screen TV was used to showcase some of the plans that have been proposed by the design team and accepted by the DPA board of directors. Nederhoff referred to these and pointed out Discovery Center’s main feature — a 200-foot-tall tower with a lighted spire and a glass-enclosed observation deck at its zenith, large enough to accommodate 50 people. There will also be an exterior walk-way at the top.
“The tower will also provide a unique perspective from inside the building,” Nederhoff said. “We think it will get kids and their parents to truly ‘look beyond’ and see new possibilities in their own lives. It will educate, it will be fun and it will inspire,” he said of the curving forms in white and silver that will stand in marked contrast to Tennessee’s blue skies and green fields.
While the fascinated guests at the event were still taking in the architectural details being unveiled, Hennes stepped forward to showcase some of the actual exhibits his team is working on. “We’ll be presenting reflections of the history of the region and the country that will tell future generations a refreshing story. It will be more than education; it will be a building with a world view from this place looking outward.”
And at that moment, the crowd itself truly looked outward as the Stearman plane bellowed its presence  over the hangar and then appeared in a blaze of color in the perfect blue sky, just beyond the roof line. Local pilot Mike Rinker was at the controls. He executed some crowd-pleasing maneuvers before bringing the brightly-painted flying machine to ground and rolling it to a place of honor just outside the hangar’s opening.
As the airborne drama unfolded, Hennes gracefully abandoned any attempt to further describe the exhibits his team is pouring heart and soul into and instead encouraged the crowd to sweep onto the field and get an up-close look at the plane — advice they immediately took to heart. For his graciousness, the former pilot was himself rewarded with a ride in the plane once the visitors had examined the flying machine from top to bottom, posed all around it for photos and questioned those with some knowledge of the plane at length.
Later in the afternoon, the design team met with members of the DPA board of directors and various volunteer committees and — in the decidedly cooler and more intimate atmosphere of the Obion County Public Library in Union City — explored the exciting plans at some leisure. Many of these will be revealed to The Messenger’s readers over the next few weeks.
And before you know it, Discovery Park of America will be taking real shape, with the Stearman suspended in all its glory and in apparent flight mode in the midst of the unique building.
And that’s the “plane” truth.
Mrs. Caudle may be contacted at glendacaudle @ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 6.23.10

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