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Randall Museum set to get makeover

Originally posted by the SF Gate
February 3, 2013

After more than 60 years of giving children a free, interactive education on nature and science, the Randall Museum is getting a $6 million face-lift.

The state grant that would pay for the construction costs to double the area of the exhibit and programming space in the aging Corona Heights building is expected to be approved Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors.

“The importance of creating additional programming space at the Randall cannot be overstated,” Supervisor Scott Wiener said in a statement when the museum, which is operated by the Recreation and Park Department, was awarded the grant in 2011.

The museum’s most popular exhibit, the live animal room where kids can walk right into a pen with rabbits, chickens and ducks and see other native creatures, will close for several months in 2015 while the area is redesigned to give it a more natural look. A geology and zoology exhibit will also be added and museum officials said building a new science lab and renovating classrooms will allow for more of the unique programming that draws nearly 100,000 visitors a year.

“This is the only place in the city where kids and adults can go to a woodworking shop together,” said Chris Boettcher, Randall’s executive director. “The bulk of it hasn’t changed since the 1950s.”

Renovations will also make it easier for patrons to visit the bottom-floor exhibits that include one of Northern California’s largest model train layouts. At times, navigating the dim ground-floor hallways with exposed pipes overhead feels like walking through a basement. A seismograph, animal skulls and other fossils are hidden from public view.

“Right now they’re in a closet more or less,” said Traci McCollister, development director for the Randall Museum Friends. “All of this is now closed to the public.”

The grant is the largest that the city has received from the California Department of Parks and Recreation under Proposition 84 in 2006, which allocated $5.4 billion to foster environmental awareness programs.

The $5.5 million received from the grant and additional $130,000 from the Friends comes at a time when Rec and Park faces its own budget problems and struggles to maintain its parks and properties. The remaining construction costs will be covered by 2004 lease revenue bond. The Randall will also build a concession stand to sell food for the first time and bring in extra revenue.

Before the museum moved to its current location in 1951, it was housed in the city’s old jail on Ocean Avenue. Josephine Randall, San Francisco’s first superintendent of recreation, created the hub of environmental education for children in 1937.

“When she had a concept of a special place for kids, the only place available was an abandoned jail,” Boettcher said. “It was a much more restricting place.”

Rec and Park Director Phil Ginsburg said he hopes the renovations will preserve the Randall as a cheaper and more interactive alternative for families to the Exploratorium or California Academy of Sciences.

“This is a place visited by a very diverse community of San Franciscans,” he said.

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