Fort Collins Museum of Discovery offers interactive experiences for kids
“I want to live here,” said my 10-year-old son, after previewing the new Fort Collins Museum of Discovery in mid-October. Indeed, the $26.7 million museum that combines both science and history exhibits under one state-of-the-art roof is engaging and interactive — and downright cool. It opened to the public Saturday.
The mix of exhibits that focus on science, nature, culture and Fort Collins-area history may sound rather odd, but, truly, the synergy works. “There’s nothing quite like this in the rest of the country,” said co-director Cheryl Donaldson.
The museum is located in a brand-new, 47,000-square-foot building that sits on a former construction dump near the intersection of Cherry Street and North College Avenue, a few blocks from Old Town.
The energy-efficient building features solar panels on its roof and reclaimed wood used as building materials, such as bowling-alley flooring on lobby walls. The museum expects LEED Platinum certification next year, one of fewer than five museums in the U.S. with the designation as an environmentally green building.
A collaboration between two entities that merged in 2008 — the Fort Collins Museum and Discovery Science Center — this public-private partnership was funded in part by a 2005 city sales-tax renewal, as well as a $20 million capital campaign.
But most school-age children who visit the Fort Collins museum won’t care why or how it came about. They’ll just want to know how much time they get to spend there.
Perhaps the most entertaining of the 16,000-square-foot exhibit space focuses on music and sound. Children (and their parents) can sit in booths to learn how to play electric drums, guitars and keyboards via video tutorials. They can also jam with their neighbors, if they like.
The museum is a blend of hands-on activities and artifacts. A glass case displays a 1904 Edison Home Phonograph alongside a circa-1988 Sony Walkman portable cassette player — in my kids’ eyes, a bulky device as antique as the phonograph. “You really used to jog with one of those?” asked my 12-year-old daughter.
She played the spinning disks of a glass harmonica, while my son sat in a $15,000 Sonic Chair — immersive, surround-sound speakers for music loaded on an attached iPad. While seated in the circular chair he said, “It’s like the bass is massaging my back.”
The Music & Sound Lab is just one of six exhibit zones. In the Schatz Family Exploration Zone, my kids liked creating wind with a manual turbine to make an entire wall of silver discs flutter. In the Wildlands & Wildlife section of the museum, a cast of a 42-foot-long prehistoric plesiosaur hangs from the ceiling. The ancient marine reptile was discovered close to what is now Horsetooth Reservoir. It’s just one example of how the museum “tells a global story through a local lens,” said co-director Donaldson.
Another cool attraction is the Otterbox Digital Dome Theater, an 85-seat, 360-degree, planetarium-style space that will show films (for an additional fee), such as Big Bird’s “One World, One Sky” and National Geographic’s “Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure.”
The free Natural Areas Visitors Center just off the lobby is where visitors can learn about different local parks and recreational trails. It’s also home to two live black-footed ferrets. Access to the museum shop, cafe, an outdoor observation deck, archive library and the atomic clock in the lobby is also free to visitors.
But if you have school-age kids, say, ages 8 or above, I think it’s worth paying the reasonable museum admission fee to spend to the bulk of an entire day at this new museum, a reason in itself to make the drive north to Fort Collins.
-Kara Williams, The Vacation Gals
Fort Collins Museum of Discovery
Tuesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
$9.50 adults, $7 students, $6 kids ages 3 to 12.
408 Mason Court, Fort Collins, 970-221-6738; fcmod.org