Museum creates regional child-focused exhibit

Lakewood Ranch businesses support museum vision.

by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

The South Florida Museum is working to have the region’s only early childhood exhibit in science and natural history, and two Lakewood Ranch-based businesses are helping the dream become reality. Lakewood Ranch-based Willis Smith Construction started work on the museum’s 16,000-square-foot addition, called the North Education Center and Mosaic Backyard Universe, in January 2018. It now is about six months from completing the project. Fawley Bryant Architecture of Lakewood Ranch has led the design for the North Education Center, which includes two primary components — an addition with movable classroom and exhibit space and a separate interactive area for children called the Mosaic Backyard Universe.The idea of the entire space is flexibility,” said Sarah Colandro, vice president of interior design for Fawley Bryant. In the education center, the museum can use soundproof, movable glass panels to create one or two classroom and exhibit spaces or remove the walls to create a larger open venue for events or meetings. Colandro said the addition — both the education center and the Backyard Universe — incorporates plenty of natural light. In fact, there are 350 panels of glass. Colandro said the design is good for occupant health, promotes sustainability and creates diversity for the museum itself. “There’s total visibility from the outside,” Colandro said. “It will change the exhibit throughout the day because of the light.” That feature is carried into the Backyard Universe, being designed by Br!ll!ant Creative Fabrication, where passers-by can see the interactive play space from Ninth Street West in Bradenton. Children can play in a treehouse, a “cardboard” spaceship and other props all created with learning opportunities in mind. For example, children playing around a large life-like oak tree will be able to see its root structure and explore inside it to see the tree’s age and health. Museum Provost and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Rodgers said the museum will offer “adventure” kits to guide families or school groups through learning themes. The exhibit will benefit all ages, but is aimed at early childhood learning. Willis Smith Construction Project Manager Angel Ortiz said the museum project has had unique construction challenges because the museum has remained operational throughout the process. Although the new wing is at the north end of the museum, the contractor had to relocate administrative offices and the computer server room, all while ensuring no dust or construction debris found its way to museum displays and artifacts. Ortiz said Willis Smith built a temporary plastic barrier and sucked air into the room where construction occurred. That kept dust and other particles from escaping. “Normally, you separate the construction zone,” Ortiz said. “The delicacy of working around museum artifacts is unique.” Ortiz said the challenges have been unique, but his crew has been excited about the project. “I’m leaving my fingerprint on something that’s going to be here 100-plus years,” he said. Colandro said the South Florida Museum project is dear to the hearts of Fawley Bryant team members. The company’s founder, the late Rick Fawley, was instrumental in the early design of the project back in 2015, and the rest of the team sees this as a “legacy” project. Contractors and museum officials expect the new wing to open in June. The museum is located at 201 10th St. W., Bradenton.

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