Doorway to learning
A sneak peek at Chico State’s Gateway Science Museum
Getting a tour of an empty building isn’t usually an exhilarating experience, but the latest edition to Chico State’s campus is anything but ordinary.
Geologist Rachel Teasdale, acting executive director of the Gateway Science Museum, was gracious enough last week to give the CN&R a sneak peek into the long-awaited facility—formerly referred to as the Northern California Natural History Museum—at the campus’ northeastern edge visible from The Esplanade. The facility will be in limited use during the fall semester for classroom field trips, and is scheduled to open to the public in the spring.
Teasdale, a professor in the Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, has temporarily taken over executive-director duties from Greg Liggett, who has recently fallen ill. During the tour, she started on the outside of the building, pointing out that visitors will be able to learn a lot about the local natural environment before setting foot inside.
“Part of the exhibit is the structure itself,” she said. “The story starts outside.”
On the south side of the facility, one of the museum’s exits, Teasdale pointed out the numerous reeds, willows and other vegetation that would be found in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The idea, she said, is to mimic the landscape of the Northern Sacramento Valley. This concept is carried on at the north side’s exterior, which is home to pines and other greenery representative of the valley’s forested regions.
Teasdale noted that additional landscaping will be completed during the coming semester, along with many other finishing touches. Near the main entrance to the modern-looking building, for example, artists will transform a barren concrete wall jutting out toward The Esplanade into a geologic timeline. She pointed out an opening in the wall, a feature depicting a break in the evolutionary timeline.
“Everything’s got a story,” said Teasdale, a native of Washington who came to Chico State in 2004 after ending a research position at the University of Bristol, in England.
On the other side of the large barrier, visitors will find an amphitheater painted in earth tones representing the area’s geology: the Chico Formation (75 million years old), Lovejoy Basalt (about 15 million years old) and the Tuscan Formation (about 4 million years old).
Just inside the main entrance, one of the most prominent features is a massive skylight—an impressive circular, web-like dome visible from the outside and representative of a volcano. The giant window to the sky bathes the entryway in natural light, and is one of the features that bolsters the building’s environmental rating (targeted for silver-level LEED certification), which falls in line with the university Master Plan mandating that all campus construction be designed and built green.
Underfoot, visitors will notice a concrete floor stained and scored into separate sections. A portion leading from the main entrance on the east side of the facility is indicative of Big Chico Creek, a river tributary that runs east to west through the center of campus. This imagined creek inside of the museum leads westward to the building’s roomy north-to-south positioned hallway called the Valley Gallery—joining up with an area also comprising stained concrete to represent regions of the valley, including the meandering Sacramento River.
Teasdale showed how the floor design spills outside of the facility, making for a seamless tour.
The Gateway Science Museum is a single-story building with extra-high ceilings to accommodate large displays. An exhibition gallery near the south exit, which for now sits empty, will be home to traveling exhibits from widely-known museums such as the Smithsonian, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry and the California Academy of Sciences. At the main gallery on the north side of the building, which is also currently empty, rotating exhibits will be interwoven with a permanent backdrop of Northern California features.
The Valley Gallery, too, will hold some exhibits. A couple of permanent features, and what are sure to be much talked about by visitors, are two skeletal models of native extinct species: an 11-foot-tall short-faced bear and a saber-tooth tiger that are on order from a company that specializes in these types of replicas.
The museum is opening up for elementary- and junior-high-school field trips this fall, and Teasdale said the most popular aspect of the facility for children (though not exclusively for kids) likely will be the Discovery Room. The space will hold kid-friendly microscopes and other objects and materials that they will be invited to explore and touch.
“Basically, it’s sort of free-form learning,” she said.
It’s already home to a couple of temperature-controlled displays for plants or live animals. A large window at one end of the space looks into a working laboratory. Teasdale hasn’t started talking to specific members of the campus community who might make use of the space, but she said she envisions looking on as geologists, biologists, botanists, anthropologists and other scientists work on samples.
Teasdale noted that the lab will welcome experts from the community as well. She also made sure to credit the community for efforts that helped make the building a reality.
“This is the result of a true partnership between community folks, who spearheaded a fundraising push, and the university, which has provided the land and enthusiasm galore,” she said.