Sitting back from the street is 67 Columbus Road. Trees line the driveway that runs parallel to the building. The exterior is tan with a pointed roof from which a white cross protrudes. The building’s sacred nature resembles the church it used to be.
But to the leaders of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, 67 Columbus Road looks like the future location of the museum’s permanent residence.
Having recently secured $200,000 in state capital funding, Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery leaders plan on breaking ground on renovations at 67 Columbus Road soon. The former church will be transformed into a museum that fosters hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) learning experiences.
“The upstairs, which was the sanctuary, is going to be the main exhibit hall,” Jen Parsons, executive director of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery, said. “We have a lot of space there where the renovations will be taking place. And then as part of this, we'll be creating new exhibits for the space.”
In the past, Parson said the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery exhibits were more “handmade,” and utilized the materials that were available to the museum. The museum was founded in 2006 and operated as a “museum without walls” until 2011, when Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery opened a physical location in The Market on State. In recent years, the museum has been operating “without walls” again, as it prepares the 67 Columbus Road location. The new physical museum space will allow for more traditional, permanent exhibits.
Sara Hartman, co-founder of the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery and co-president of the museum’s board, also believes that the new physical space will allow the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery to expand its partnerships.
“We're very excited because the new facility is going to open up opportunities for us to collaborate with schools, public libraries, nonprofits, university educators, student groups and then other museums and arts organizations all around the region,” Hartman said. “We think it will be a win-win for everyone.”
Hartman believes that partnerships are important to the museum’s success, especially in the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery’s facilitation of STEAM education in the rural setting of Athens and surrounding counties. Partnerships allow the museum to reach volunteers, students and others, further embedding the museum in the community and making it accessible for community members.
Community collaboration has been at the helm of the museum’s operations since its founding. Hartman, along with a group of other community members, had the vision for the museum and saw it through to fruition.
“We came together as a group of community members who saw a need in our region and wanted to work together to fill that need, to be able to provide educational opportunities for the children in our region,” Hartman said.
The Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery is unique; it is the lone STEAM-focused museum in Southeast Ohio. Because of this, many see the museum as a valuable asset of Athens.
Colleen McGuire, a freshman studying industrial and systems engineering, believes that introducing children to STEAM at a young age is important, and the museum is able to do that.
“Their mission of inspiring visitors with creative and interactive experiences is important to establishing an appreciation for the world around us, especially for children and young visitors,” McGuire said in a message. “Museums and experiences such as this are a great way to remove the stigma most children have about math and science, showing that working in (these) fields can be fun, and hopefully igniting some interest in them.”
At the 67 Columbus Road location, the Ohio Valley Museum of Discovery plans on continuing to provide STEAM learning experiences for children of all ages.
“We really hope to continue furthering our mission to be able to reach as many children and families in our region as possible. There is not another entity like ours in the region,” Hartman said. “And so we fulfill a really important void that we currently have here for out-of-school learning opportunities in our region, so we're very excited to be able to continue doing that.”