Exploration Station rendering

This rendering shows plans for a hands-on children’s museum tentatively called the Marion County Exploration Station in a vacant building currently owned by Fairmont State University.

FAIRMONT — An effort is underway to open a hands-on children’s museum in Fairmont.

“Because you guys support what we do, I wanted to let you know that the Marion County Family Resource Network is working with the Board of Education, the public library, NASA and Pierpont to bring a hands-on children’s museum for science and exploration,” said Frank Jarman, FRN executive director, at Wednesday’s county commission meeting.

Jarman said the museum would benefit children educationally and also set them on a positive path in life.

“We know children who are interested in science, technology, engineering, arts and math do better in school, and hands-on exhibits can play a big part in changing their mind about this subject,” he said.

He said exposure to these subjects could “change a whole generation’s mind about education.”

He also believes getting children interested in education would help them stay away from drugs.

“When students are focused on doing better in school, they have less time to get into the trouble that can come from substance abuse,” he said.

Jarman said the FRN is eyeing a vacant building on Merchant Street that is currently owned by Fairmont State University as a possible location for the museum. Jarman said FRN would like to have a partnership with the university in which students and instructors from the school could teach at the museum.

The former bank branch building sits on a ridge near the riverfront Palatine Park, which Jarman said, makes the site an ideal location.

Tentatively named the Marion County Exploration Station, the museum’s first floor would include hands-on STEAM exhibits. The lower floor would include classrooms and an outdoor learning area.

As for the content of the museum, Jarman thought NASA could play an instrumental role by loaning exhibits to be put on display.

He also said Spark! Imagination and Science Center in Morgantown would like to bring in some exhibits to the museum to be used by Marion County students.

He said the museum would have set hours during the week and on the weekend, and current plans are to allow Marion County students to get in free. He said there might be a charge for special events to help with the cost of upkeep of the museum.

As for funding, Jarman said the FRN has applied for a $200,000 STEAM grant for education from Toyota. He said the Benedum Foundation is also another possible funding source.

Marion County Schools Superintendent Randy Farley expressed enthusiasm about such a museum opening. He said the BOE is helping by contributing ideas and being part of the committee that is exploring the museum.

He said the BOE is also looking at ways the school system can participate at the museum.

“We’re very interested in that coming to fruition in Fairmont,” he said. “We just think it would be a nice opportunity for families not to have to go to Morgantown or Charleston or Pittsburgh and have something like that in Fairmont.”

“We’ve been trying to listen to the committee working on it and ideas people have,” he said. “People seem to get excited about things like this because the STEAM bus we have with the school system created a lot of good interest for this type of activity for children.”

Farley said he sees how families in other cities with such museums enjoy themselves at such places.

“I think it would be wonderful for families in Fairmont and Marion County,” he said.

Eric Hrin can be reached at 304-367-2549, or ehrin@timeswv.com.

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