By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
WAYNESBORO — After getting stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Waynesboro branch of the Virginia Museum of Natural History awaits state funding and is searching for the right architect for the project.
Waynesboro’s branch of the museum will be a 25,000-square-foot building built at the corner of Main Street and Arch Avenue, where parking currently exists next to the Constitution Park Pavilion.
According to Joe Keiper, executive director of the museum based in Martinsville, pre-planning was conducted in 2019, but then COVID-19 stalled plans.
“The state has seen fit to fund the next phase of our plan: detailed planning,” said Keiper.
Detailed planning requires the presentation of documents for the construction of the museum branch to potential architects.
Right now, Keiper said, museum officials wait patiently to hire architect firms for the project by talking with firms about the museum’s goals and aspirations in Waynesboro.
“What we want this place to look like and, more importantly, how we want to serve the community,” Keiper said.
Meetings have already been held with local educators and community members, according to Keiper, and “those interested in seeing downtown Waynesboro grow.” One goal of the museum is to host field trips by students from local school systems.
Keiper said that the museum will enable Waynesboro to grow economically by bringing tourists to the River City who will stay at local hotels, eat at local restaurants and shop in local retail, but a branch in Waynesboro will also enable the museum to grow its audience base.
“Everyone is just really excited and wants to dive head first into the project,” Keiper said.
Next up is also public meetings to gather community input at various locations in the city next year.
“We want to make sure we’re right on target,” Keiper said of the museum. By speaking with local educators, the museum gathered information about what exhibits would interest pre-K through 5th grade students, but now museum officials need input about the building’s design and purpose.
“To get that kind of input is really valuable to make sure we’re serving the public the best,” Keiper said.
The state will pay 4 percent of the total cost of the project toward detailed planning. According to Keiper, the city of Waynesboro will pay $1 million toward the total cost, $2 million will come from the museum’s non-profit foundation and the state will provide $18 million.
“Hopefully, this spring , we’re going to be going full speed ahead,” Keiper said.