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Waynesboro branch of Virginia Museum of Natural History is a ‘rebirth’ for the city

Rebecca Barnabi
A tentative design plan for the Waynesboro branch of the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Photo by Rebecca J. Barnabi.

Glavé & Holmes Architecture of Richmond will design the Waynesboro branch of the Virginia Museum of Natural History.

“They’re going to be with us from today until the day we open,” said Joe Keiper, Executive Director of the VMNH in Martinsville.

Keiper said the hope is to open the Waynesboro museum in 2025. The architecture firm will complete design plans in 2023 and a groundbreaking will be held in 2024.

A project years in the making was held up during the COVID-19 pandemic waiting on state funding approval. Keiper said the Waynesboro museum is on the state’s list.

“The state has made the commitment,” he said. However, as has already happened in the planning of Waynesboro’s branch of VMNH, roadblocks must be expected in the next few years before the museum is complete.

At a reception held Wednesday evening in Waynesboro, Keiper spoke of the day a sign was unveiled in the parking lot at the corner of Arch Avenue and Main Street where the museum will be built.

“This became a community event that day and it reinvents itself as a community event today,” Keiper said.

The museum is accepting ideas for a community time capsule that will be placed in the museum as it is constructed.

The reception was held downtown at The City Foxes, which opened one week earlier.

“There are so many new storefronts and we can’t wait [to be a part of it],” said Lisa Carter, a member of the VMNH board.

Steven Blashfield, Senior Principal and Director of Cultural Studio with Glavé & Holmes Architecture, said the firm is looking forward to seeing the expansion of museums in Virginia.

“Certainly, the idea of building a new museum here in Waynesboro is a great opportunity,” Blashfield said.

The Waynesboro branch of the VMNH will be uniquely Virginian and important for the community.

“As a firm, we’re really excited to be working in a town with a context,” Blashfield said.

Designs right now are tentative and could change before the building is built in 2024.

“It’s been a while coming, but we’re really happy as to where we are now,” said Dr. Thomas Benzing, a VMNH board member.

The design of the Waynesboro branch will build on ideas already in mind for the building, connect the museum to the South River, and interpret regional ecology, geology and culture, according to Benzing.

“There’s lots of stories to tell,” Benzing said. Such as the story of American eels swimming up the South River annually.

Another story is the cold springs, which brought DuPont to the area in the early 1900s, and others. Now residents fish along the South River.

“I think that ecology will be intimately engaged in the museum. We’re going to think about how can we tell people about the springs,” Benzing said.

Benzing, who lives in Augusta County, began working to bring the museum to Waynesboro in 2008.

“I think it will serve a community who doesn’t necessarily have access to a facility like this,” Benzing said.

In a diverse community like Waynesboro, students and adults will benefit from the museum’s presence.

“It’s a rebirth really for the city,” Benzing said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.

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