As the Discovery Museums in Acton celebrate 30 years serving the Greater Boston community, they are planning a major expansion to further that service for the next 30 years.
The yearlong celebration began in June with a 30th birthday party for the dinosaur mascot, Bessie, which children have played on since the institution’s beginning.
“They’re big fans of Bessie,” Concord resident Katherine Taunton-Rigby said of her two young daughters and several of their friends who visited the museums last week.
Providing resources that make learning exciting for children is extremely important, said the museums’ chief executive officer, Neil Gordon. Since arriving three years ago from the Boston Children’s Museum, Gordon has emphasized community outreach.
“I think the 30th anniversary is really an opportunity for us to celebrate how lucky we’ve been to be part of our community, and get so much community support for so many years,” he said. “It’s a reason to celebrate that people have been so supportive of what we’ve tried to provide.”
That support comes largely from the museums’ more than 2,000 members, and a members-only event is planned in December to thank them, said the organization’s director of marketing, Ann Sgarzi.
This fall, the museums will hold an anniversary gala hosted by a WBUR radio host, Robin Young, and for a week next month the museums will go back to the 1982 admission price of $2.
The museums are also open for free on Friday nights throughout the summer, and then once a month during the school year.
But as membership has grown to an all-time high and attendance has steadily increased, the museums have outgrown their space.
The Children’s Discovery Museum, which is in an old, converted Victorian house, frequently has a waiting list for visitors.
A few years ago the board of directors started thinking about another expansion to accommodate increased visitation and improve the museums’ offerings.
Gordon and Sgarzi said the plan is to expand the Science Discovery Museum to accommodate some of the exhibits that are currently in the Children’s Discovery Museum. Once the two museums are joined in the same building, a new purpose would be found for the children’s building.
The last piece will be to utilize the museums’ 4.5-acre property for outdoor exhibits.
The Children’s Discovery Museum introduces younger children, typically up to the age of 6, to the world’s rudimentary sciences, like why a ball rolls down a ramp.
The Science Discovery Museum furthers science exploration by featuring STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) principles, which are seen as gaining in importance for US students as the country faces growing competition in research and development efforts.
Gordon said that joining the two museums will “make it possible for families to have a complete experience together in one building,” rather than splitting up older and younger children in the separate museums. The expansion will also provide a space specifically for children under age 2, with a focus on sensory learning.
While the Discovery Museums are known for their homey, compact spaces, the expansion, which is in the early design stages, will allow the institution to accommodate traveling exhibitions, hold more community events, and add to its cache of more than 400 special hands-on programs.
Gordon said he hopes the museums will also be able to offer basic amenities, like food, coat rooms, and a better gift shop. “The key is to provide a platform for us to reach more deeply and broadly into the community and serve more people from all parts of the Greater Boston area,” he said.
It turns out the museums have a broad reach — all the way to the West Coast, in the case of the Steiglitz family. Matthew Steiglitz, 9, said he and his brother Jeremy, 6, go to the museums “pretty much every time we come out here” to visit their grandfather, Stuart Rhein, a Framingham allergist. Rhein said that’s about once a year.
Last week, the boys were busy sawing wood and hammering nails at the workbench station in the science museum.
Tom Beaudoin, an Acton resident and member of the museums’ board of directors, said they will look into a “number of sources” to fund the expansion once plans are more concrete.
He said he expects some of it will come from the board and other supporters, but the museums will likely have to rely on other sources in the larger community as well.