A $291,000 grant from the Northern Development Initiative Trust will fund a number of projects planned at The Exploration Place – some which are planned to be open to the public by this summer.
The Exploration Place Museum and Science Centre CEO Tracy Calogheros said, with the community development grant from NDIT, the museum has put together roughly $700,000 for a significant overhaul of the facility and to launch a number of new programs. One of the first on the agenda is the development of a commercial kitchen with a pass-through window to the outside of the museum.
"We'll be able to serve food and drinks directly to customers in Lheidli T'enneh Memorial Park," Calogheros said. "Our plan is to start running the Little Prince train on the May long weekend. We'd like to have the commercial kitchen open by then."
The Exploration Place may have to remain closed for much or all of the year, because of the pandemic. But Museum staff will be out in the park as well, when the weather warms up, she said, doing animal meet-and-greets and other activities.
"We'll just program the park as if it is one of our galleries," she said.
Inside the museum, the renovation is going to put a new focus on Indigenous history and reconciliation, she said. The Hodul’eh-a: A Place of Learning gallery will be one of the few galleries that remains unchanged, and new space is planned to focus on Indigenous heritage.
The museum has repatriated a number of artifacts associated with Indigenous people in the region, and will have them on display, she said. In turn, The Exploration Place has repatriated a number of artifacts from its collection to other regions.
"There is lots of exciting stuff," Calogheros said. "For the biome (area), we're looking at getting accredited as a zoo."
That would allow the museum to double the area dedicated to housing animals, she said. The museum is looking to work with a regional animal sanctuary to bring in more local species, Calogheros added.
The museum is also looking at using its own collection to create travelling exhibits, with a Western Canadian focus, that could be rented to other museums and facilities throughout the province, she added.
The atrium space will be converted into a paleo-botany hall, with a 90-foot living wall and separate pods where family groups can sit together and still be socially distant, she said.
The pandemic has meant The Exploration Place staff and board have had to "rethink everything from the ground up,” in terms of how it operates and funds itself.
"This is the first wave of a long evolution," Calogheros said.
Several other capital improvements to things like the building’s HVAC system and windows are planned as well.
The NDIT grant was one of eight made to organizations across northern B.C., worth a combined $1.9 million.