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Museum and fossil site seeks funding from county


Staff Writer

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The Hands-On! Regional Museum executive Director Andy Marquart met with the Health Education and Welfare Committee during their April 6 meeting with a $1 million request as part of their relocation venture to the Gray Fossil Site and Museum on Exit 13.

Marquart, along with his partners from the East Tennessee State University Center of Excellence in Paleontology who make up the other half of GFSM, requested the funds to put towards the first phase of the relocation of Hands-On! from their downtown Johnson City location to Gray. Marquart said the funds would go into exhibits and structures required to facilitate these programs.

“We are going to begin a discovery center in the sense that we’re going to be STEM (science technology engineering and math) based. We are ready to roll out the learning standards for the state of Tennessee,” Marquart said. “We also want to work with Washington County Schools to make sure we are coming online as an additional resource in Washington County.”

Phase 1 of this two-part plan that is projected to be complete in 2018 is going to cost about $1.5 million. Marquart said the site and museum has raised a quarter of that cost and will be receiving another quarter-million. The director also said the museum receives funding from the state for their science initiatives from the department of education.

It was also mentioned that such a tourism site could attract revenue for the county. But Commissioner Katie Baker said if the request makes it out of the committee, “‘What will investment be from Johnson City?’ will be the next question.”

Marquart said there has not been a public conversation on Johnson City’s investment. He also said Washington County visitors make up about 60 percent of total visitors at Hands-On and that the population within a 30-mile square radius increases by 18 percent at the Gray location as compared to the downtown Johnson City site that Hands-on! has called home for over 30 years.

“It’s more than just about what we do within our four walls wherever we’re located” Marquart said in an interview with the Herald & Tribune about the site. “It’s about what we’re doing out in the community as well and how the community interprets us as an educational opportunity and so there are multiple opportunities for citizen science projects and for people to go up and observe and report back and be part of their community in a way that they never thought possible. And we hope to be a hub for that.”

The decision from the committee has been deferred to their May 4 meeting at the Historic Courthouse in Jonesborough.