Anniston museums announce Force Factory exhibit plan

·3 min read

Jun. 11—The Anniston Museum of Natural History announced a new exhibit Thursday night that will introduce kids to the physical sciences through hands-on learning.

Anniston Museums and Gardens staff held an unveiling for the "Force Factory," a 1,200-square-foot installation that will introduce kids (and adults who enjoy fun) to simulated forces of wind, water, air, fire and more when it's completed. The permanent exhibit will take the place of the current, nature-themed kids room, though some features — like a bigger, newer, rumbling earthquake floor — will modernize old favorites from the space.

The facility will cost about $500,000, according to museums director Alan Robison, though he said donors in the community including Alabama Power, Merrill Lynch and the Anniston Museum Endowment Corporation have generated about $222,500 of the goal already.

"When we sat down to do this, we thought, 'What do we need to tell kids that we're not telling them now?'" Robison told an audience of city leaders and museum investors in the history museum's lobby. "What do we need to tell the kids what they need to know?"

It was decided that the museum needed a way to provide practical learning experiences, tying into science education but offering new perspectives. It's one thing to read that tornadoes are big, loud and windy, but another to go inside a wind chamber and discover — in total safety — that strong winds can pick up a person, a car, a house. Plans provided Thursday night showed tornado safety tips posted just outside the chamber. For a kid in Alabama, it's vital information.

Other stations include mockup helicopter and submarine play areas, the earthquake floor and a giant globe of Earth.

Jessie Phillips, an Alexandria Elementary School teacher, is a member of the project planning team. She said there had been care to include STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math — elements throughout the exhibit, with immersive experiences at the core.

"I love the idea of transforming something realistic and potentially scary into something comprehensive and potentially relatable," Phillips said.

According to Renee Lyons, the museum complex's public relations officer, those efforts and improvements like Force Factory will help the museum stay competitive.

"Natural history museums are thought of as being static, but hands-on rooms like this allow kids to touch the items and be involved," Lyons said.

Families visiting will enjoy Force Factory, she said, but teachers will find not only material that meets their education requirements, but enough space to teach a crowd of kids all at once.

The museum complex has spent time and money over the last year making itself more available to educators; the new bus lane, for instance, makes it simpler for bus drivers to get out of the parking lot, and walkways between the natural history and Berman museums make traversing the two easier and safer. Force Factory will also include bathrooms, Robison said, a sure relief for teachers and parents whose children skip the lobby restrooms.

Lyons said that she had heard no plans to change ticket prices as new exhibits open, and said that keeping the museum affordable to Anniston's families and educators is a constant factor in decision making.

Once the funding goal is met, she said, construction could take about a year.

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.

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