By Robert Kittle
It was October 29, 1988 when the South Carolina State Museum officially opened. But unlike people, it's still growing at age 25. The museum has acquired about 25,000 square feet of additional space, is renovating another 25,000 square feet, and is building about 25,000 square feet of brand new space.
It's adding an observatory, a 4-D theater, a planetarium, a cafeteria for school classes that visit, and new meeting space complete with a catering kitchen. The $23 million project started 17 years ago.
The front entrance and lobby are being expanded and will be three stories tall. When you walk in, you'll be walking under the giant tripod legs of the telescope on the fourth floor that's part of the observatory.
Museum director of marketing Merritt McHaffie says not only will students be able to come to the museum to use the telescope, but students around the state will be able to log on and control the telescope from their classrooms. "First time anybody's been able to do this in the nation, to have somebody remotely control a telescope, especially for education purposes," she says.
The 4-D theater is one that shows a 3-D movie but also adds a fourth dimension to the experience. The seats will shake when appropriate, smells will be piped into the theater to enhance a scene, or the seats will generate fog, blow wind or squirt water when called for. It will be the only permanent 4-D theater in the state.
McHaffie says the additions will make the State Museum even more of an attraction. "If you take the observatory, the 4-D theater, and the planetarium, we will be the only attraction in the nation that has all three of them under one roof," she says. The museum already has an economic impact on the entire state of about $22 million a year.
The additions are scheduled to open mid-2014.
For the 25th birthday celebration, the well-known giant shark hanging from the rafters inside the museum has been given a name for the first time: Finn. He's wearing a birthday hat.
Tut Underwood has worked at the museum since it opened and has seen a lot of changes.
"We have broken new ground and broken through walls and expanded inside the museum as well. Our expanded Civil War exhibit most recently, but also our dinosaur gallery was not there originally. Our blockbuster gallery was not there originally. So a lot has been done inside the space," he says.
But the biggest change will be the additions opening next year, he says.