The towering Tyrannosaurus Rex worked its usual magic.
Several hundred school children stared in amazement at the 2,300-pound fiberglass figure as they squeezed into the lobby of Gastonia’s Schiele Museum of Natural History.
“I’m not scared,” I overheard one little girl tell a friend.
The T-Rex is a proven attention-getter for museum visitors young and old. But the Schiele is about to introduce another unique presence.
The 7,700-square-foot, $3.1 million Matthews Belk Cannon Environmental Studies Center makes its public debut on April 13.
If you’ve driven down Garrison Boulevard in the past year or so, you’ve seen the construction work going on. One side of the museum had been a solid brick wall, but the addition has large windows that face Garrison.
Now, you’ll be able to see people moving around inside the building. Folks at the Schiele hope this will help the community feel better-connected with the museum.
They’ll feel even better when they get inside. Ann Tippett, executive director of the Schiele, recently showed me around the environmentally friendly building.
Simply put, this is flexible, multi-purpose space that will allow the Schiele to expand its teaching programs. The addition is handicapped accessible, has more restrooms and new exhibits on the walls.
Multi-purpose space might not sound too exciting. But there’s nothing quite like this space in Gaston. In addition to standard lighting, solar tubing brings in supplemental light from the roof.
Then there’s a state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen. PSNC bought the naming rights and donated a hot water heater. Whirlpool donated a stunning lineup of kitchen equipment that includes a six-burner gas range, refrigerator and freezer, among other items.
Tippett explained that this is a teaching kitchen. The space is arranged so children can gather around to watch programs on health and nutrition. Tippett hopes to involve local chefs in adult cooking classes and also offer innovative programs that explore such subjects as exotic salt, fungi, mushrooms and chocolate.
The space seats 300 to 400 people, but a wall can divide it into two rooms. Any part of the addition can be rented for wedding receptions, meetings and other special events.
There’s another dimension to this space. Tippett called the building itself a teaching tool.
Start with the floor, made from prime heart of pine. This beautiful wood came from the old Imperial Mill in Belmont and was donated to the Schiele by Pharr Yarns.
Building materials used in Gaston’s early mills came from the area’s old-growth forests.
Textile history and recycling are embodied in the floor at the Schiele’s new addition.
The “green” roof is the only one of its kind between Atlanta and Roanoke, Va.
Tippett took me up for a look around – something you’ll be able to do as a visitor. The roof-top walkway is made of recycled soda and water bottles.
Visitors will have a designated spot to sit and observe the roof, which is made of 10,000 “plugs” of five different varieties of sedum, a low-growing succulent plant resistant to extreme heat or cold.
The Roofing Division of Firestone donated the roofing materials. Columbia Green assisted with the donation of sedum, and GSM Services donated part of the labor for the project.
Tippett said the advantage of a “green” roof is a longer life and increased energy efficiency. Also, it reduces runoff into the storm drain system.
“And it’s beautiful,” Tippett said. She’s right, and the plants weren’t even in bloom yet when I was there.
‘Just the beginning’
Funding for this first-class environmental studies center came from multiple sources, according to Debbie Windley, museum advancement director.
A lead gift to kick off the capital campaign came from the city of Gastonia Travel and Tourism Authority, along with sizeable donations from The David Belk Cannon Foundation and the Matthews Belk Fund. Other donations ranging from $10 to $200,000 came from more than 250 other contributors, including individuals, businesses and foundations.
The building’s shades were donated by custom-made window treatment manufacturer Hunter Douglas. Naming rights for the roof were purchased by Charlton Torrence Jr.
One classroom is named for the Duke Kimbrell Family and the other for Wells Fargo.
ElectriCities of North Carolina is making a donation to pay for solar panels on the roof along with a monitor that will track the solar energy that is being generated.
Ron and Katherine Harper donated a Sharp Aquos Board Interactive Display system with an 80-inch board. The computer-generated technology will be used by businesses, schools and civic groups, Windley said.
A grant from Lowe’s Foods will bring in nutritional programs and food-related classes.
“And this is just the beginning,” Windley said. “It’s quite exciting.”
On my tour of the building, Tippett talked about her dream – hoping the new space would create an energy for and about the Schiele.
I’m betting that’ll happen. When people get a look at the addition and programs begin, they’ll be even more proud of a community asset that’s been around for more than 50 years.