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Groundbreaking for Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe Ushers in New Era of Science Education

Museum Expansion Hailed as Important for Kids, Important for Bradenton, Important for the Region

On Tuesday, January 16, 2018, the At The Bishop ushered in a new era of science education when officials broke ground for an expansion that will bring new innovative programs and spaces to the community’s largest cultural attraction.

“Today we are officially breaking ground on the Museum’s North Education Center, a major leap forward in the Museum’s evolution, positioning us to expand the reach and impact of our work in science education,” said Jeanie Kirkpatrick, Chair of the Museum’s Board of Trustees. “This new wing will be unique in our region. Our transformation will help connect Museum visitors to the world around them like never before and enhance the community’s ability to explore the universe, all building on the solid foundation laid more than seven decades ago when the Museum was founded.”

Museum staff, Board members and supporters, as well as local officials and children that will one day benefit from the Museum’s expanded offerings broke ground for the North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe, which will bring innovative exhibitions for young learners and their families and new classrooms that increase the Museum’s capacity to engage students, educators and the public. The expansion will allow the Museum to do more of what it does best: immerse visitors in experiences that support an understanding and appreciation of science and nature.

In addition to Kirkpatrick, event speakers included U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Longboat Key) Museum CEO Brynne Anne Besio; William Blalock, Chairman of the Museum’s Connect Capital Campaign; Karla Guzman-Mims, representing Mosaic and the Mosaic Company Foundation and Jeff Rodgers, Museum Provost & COO.

“It’s great when you can see everyone working together on a private-public partnership,” Rep. Buchanan said. “I’m very excited about what this is going to mean, especially for children.  Children make up 25 percent of our population but 100 percent of our future and that is what this is all about to me; it’s to help our kids learn more about science. Someone mentioned that 15,000 kids might be coming through here a year. That really grabs my heart. This is very exciting for Bradenton and Manatee County; it’s incredible what we’re doing with the waterfront here. I’m glad to be a small part of it.”

Rep. Buchanan also hailed the public-private partnership that is making the expansion possible for the important role it will play in the community and in the Riverfront revitalization. As the only natural history museum on Florida’s Gulf coast, the Museum has been in the perfect location to be an anchor attraction for downtown Bradenton since its inception and it remains a vital part of the region’s educational, tourism and business landscapes, drawing 80,000 visitors annually and bringing a $4.1 million economic benefit to the community each year.

The groundbreaking comes nearly three years to the day when the Museum announced its Connect Capital Campaign.

“The Connect Capital Campaign was created to help us raise the funds needed so that we could create the museum of the future — so that we could build a place for exciting new exhibitions, experiences and programs built on technological advances and new spaces that will help us connect more deeply with our community,” Besio said. “Thanks to the community’s support, we are able to begin this phase of construction and take the next step in the Museum’s evolution in its role as a vital and treasured community resource.”

Early support for the expansion came from Mosaic and The Mosaic Company Foundation, which not only encouraged the Museum’s Board to “think big” in terms of planning potential new programs and spaces, but also provided important financial support — a $1.3 million grant — that helped get the Connect Campaign under way. Other strong community support has come through:

  • $9.175 million in donations and grants from private individuals and foundations;
  • The Manatee County Tourism Development Council (TDC), in conjunction with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which made a $1 million grant;
  • The City of Bradenton;
  • $450,000 in grants from the state of Florida;
  • $75,000 donations from private business.
Working with the Florida Community Loan Fund, an additional $2.48 million in funding is coming through New Markets Tax Credits, a federal program that encourages investment and development in low-income communities. The program helps investors finance projects that benefit the greater good in their local, underserved communities in return for a reduction in their federal tax burden. The investor — in this case, PNC Bank — still pays their taxes but instead of ending up in federal coffers, the money is directly invested locally in projects that improve services in their own backyards. The City of Bradenton helped to facilitate this investment.

The expansion will be 12,600 square feet of new and renovated classroom and exhibition space and 15,300 square feet of outdoor program space. It will allow the Museum to serve as a permanent home to the successful Ballard Satellite VPK program it currently houses and provide daily opportunities for public programs like Lunch & Learn, expanded home school courses and science camps. It will also be home to collaborative endeavors like the USF/SFM “Teaching Elementary Science” course for undergraduates and will allow the Museum to host expanded programs with the Manatee County School District and other partners to serve thousands of additional children and their families each year.

The expansion includes the Mosaic Backyard Universe (MBU), an immersive STEAM learning environment for children in pre-K through grade 2 that will be modeled on a typical backyard setting. The MBU will be unique in the region; a place for hands-on exploration and investigation where kids can interact with the simple wonders of nature — rocks, soil, water, weather and living plants and animals.

“This new learning environment will provide a place for active discovery and exploration where learning is fun,” Besio said. “A child’s success in both academics and life is heavily influenced by their early learning experiences, even before they start kindergarten. We also know that children who are performing at grade level by the third grade realize significant gains throughout life, including better outcomes in education, health, social behaviors and employment. The Mosaic Backyard Universe will also lay the foundation for future scientific investigation and discovery in the Museum’s exhibits, Planetarium and Aquarium and help set children on a path for a lifetime of success.”

Fawley Bryant Architects, the architect of record, is managing and leading all phases of design and assisting in construction administration with the construction manager. With offices in Bradenton and Sarasota, Fawley Bryant creates extraordinary projects by bringing together a unique variety of people, services and technology that help clients do what they do better in smarter and more beautiful spaces.

Doug Mund of dmdg2 owns the nationally respected firm that focused on designing the Museum’s new spaces to help fulfill the organization’s mission. dmdg2 is expert at creating connections between museums and visitors, making projects relevant and meaningful to the community. Fawley Bryant is supporting Mund and dmdg2 in the creative design process and dmdg2 is providing exhibit and lighting design.

Willis A. Smith Construction, Inc., is the building contractor. Headquartered in Lakewood Ranch, Willis Smith has been managing public and private projects in Manatee County for more than 30 years and has extensive experience with museum construction and renovation.

Construction of the North Education Center and MBU,including its exhibits, is expected to cost around $8 million. Construction of these areas is part of a larger overall vision for the Museum contained in the Master Campus and Programming Plan developed by staff and the Board of Trustees. Projects already completed as part of this vision, thanks to funding through the Connect Capital Campaign include:

  • The Planetarium projection system was upgraded and remains state-of-the-art;
  • Development of the initial software structure for the Pathways program;
  • Facility upgrades including the roof, a new chiller, security cameras and phone system;
  • Branding research and creative development;
  • Planning, architecture and engineering for the Museum Campus;
  • Purchase of the DeSoto House to give the Museum access to the whole campus.
Construction is expected to take 14 to 18 months and the Museum is expected to remain open during construction, though access to some areas may be limited for brief periods. Street parking will continue to be available on 10th Street West, in front of the Museum, but the Museum’s north parking lot is closed for construction. There are several parking locations available in downtown Bradenton that are convenient to the Museum, including the public parking lot across the street from the Museum at City Hall and the County parking garage at the corner of Manatee Avenue and 10th Street West. The Museum has parking suggestions and maps on its website, www.SouthFloridaMuseum.org.

“I would like to personally thank all the donors who have so far contributed to the Connect Campaign,” said Blalock, the Connect Campaign Chairman. “We received gifts from long-time supporters and new friends that are allowing us to begin to transform this much-loved Bradenton institution into the Museum of the future and I hope the community will continue to support the Connect Campaign. The Museum has always been an important part of my life and the community and it’s truly exciting to know that the unique new experiences and places we are building here today and the plans we have for the future are all being developed by our very own Museum experts. I’m proud to be associated with this treasure, the South Florida Museum, located right in our very own backyard.”