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Construction on Museum of Life and Science parking deck could start this spring

Posted February 16

The 350-space parking deck could open in spring or summer 2018. The dotted line shows room for expansion years from now.
Courtesy: Museum of Life and Science

Construction on a three-story, 350-space parking deck at the Museum of Life and Science could start as early as this spring.

The project will double the amount of parking at the popular Durham museum where space has been at a premium since fall 2015 after the opening of Hideaway Woods, an outdoor exhibit featuring a collection of tree houses, a manmade spring and other activities.

Bigger crowds have forced the museum to rely more often on offsite parking and shuttles to bring visitors to and from its campus on Murray Avenue, especially during school breaks and sunny weekends.

But Hideaway Woods isn't the only exhibit that's driven visitors to the museum. Attendance has nearly doubled in the past dozen years with new exhibits such as Explore the Wild in 2006, Catch the Wind in 2007 and the Dinosaur Trail in 2009.

About 275,000 people were walking through the doors in 2004. Last year, attendance climbed to more than 500,000.

"We've had these increasingly rising waves of visitation," Julie Rigby, the museum's vice president for external relations. "We've been thinking about this for a number of years."

In November, Durham voters approved $14 million in bonds for improvements to the museum. The museum, a nonprofit, also receives ongoing public support from Durham County through a public/private partnership.

The first $7 million will be spent on the parking deck, including moving the museum's facilities shop to another spot to make way for the deck.

The remaining $7 million is dedicated to more classrooms, new indoor and outdoor exhibits, maintenance and other improvements. Plans for those are still in development.

The new deck will sit adjacent to the parking lot that's across Murray Avenue from the museum's main campus. Rigby said offiicals don't anticipate losing many, if any, existing spaces.

During construction, plans call for the creation of a construction corridor that goes down the far end of the southside lot.

"The project will be behind a construction fence," Rigby said. "There should be minimal disruption to visitors while we're building it. That is our plan."

Rigby said museum officials looked at a variety of options as they looked to expand museum parking.

The parking deck, she said, "is more environmentally friendly. There's less permeable surface. It's longer lasting."

And, it better serves museum visitors, who come schlepping strollers, diaper bags and, at the end of the visit, tired kids.

"We need parking that fits the needs of our customers," Rigby said.

Site work is expected to start in the spring or early summer. Officials hope construction will be complete by spring or summer 2018.

And they have a big incentive to get it done as soon as they can. The museum's next major exhibit - Earth Moves - is slated to open as soon after the parking deck opens as possible.

The exhibit will feature giant diggers that kids can operate; 15-foot-high sand piles; a freestanding waterfall and other pieces dedicated to teaching kids about geology, engineering, construction and related topics.

"It is groundbreaking, pun intended," Rigby said.

"I've been with the museum for 12 years and, as excited as I have been about all of the cool things we have delivered so far, I am even more excited about how we can deliver more learning experiences with these projects that we have lined up," she said. "Our mission is to create a place of life long learning. That’s really what drives us. It’s kids who are experiencing and discovering. It’s adults who are learning. So all of that really inspires us and drives the continuing development of the museum."

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