GREENSBORO — Twin 4-year-old girls Sarah and Sarai Dean finally got to see what they had been peeking at from behind construction fencing for months.
And they weren’t disappointed when the Greensboro Science Center opened its $15.5 million expansion — Revolution Ridge — with a special preview Thursday.
“I loved the hippos and the flamingos,” Sarah said.
“And I liked the turtle,” added Sarai, who had just come from the Shearer Animal Health Center, where a Burmese star tortoise was getting a veterinary checkup in full view of visitors.
The comments would have heartened Glenn Dobrogosz.
At an earlier ribbon cutting, the Science Center’s CEO talked about a cartoon he’d seen that morning in which a little boy asks: “When will I understand the meaning of life?”
Dobrogosz said it got him thinking about what age that might be.
“I think the answer is 3 ... because that’s the age where you’re not distracted by your cellphone, by life, by bills, by work, by all the tensions that modern society put upon us,” he said. “A 3-year-old comes in here, goes over to that scrap yard over there and picks up a rock and finds fascination in a rock because that rock is billions of years old.
“They just see something different.”
But it’s not rocks that drew the crowd of dignitaries and donors to the ribbon cutting.
It was nine new animal exhibits, a state-of-the-art veterinary hospital and conservation center, a cluster of tree houses and an elevated boardwalk.
The new animals include cassowaries, pigmy hippos, an okapi, a serval and Caribbean flamingos.
The expansion is the culmination of the Science Center’s 2006 master plan.
Speakers at the ribbon cutting praised Dobrogosz and his team for envisioning the expansion and making it happen.
“Some years ago, Glenn and his team walked into a situation where they were looking at what was really a petting zoo and an antiquated museum,” interim City Manager Chris Wilson said. “It was well-loved … but it was somewhat stagnant.
“And they brought a vision.”
Mayor Nancy Vaughan praised the community effort behind the 11-plus acre expansion, which included private donations and a $20 million bond issued by the city.
She also lauded the Science Center’s discount for people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — better known as SNAP.
“One thing that I’m really proud of is that the Science Center really looked at making this accessible to all people,” Vaughan said.
Speakers also touched on the challenges of finishing the expansion during the pandemic, which severely restricted the Science Center’s gate proceeds and caused construction delays.
While acknowledging the difficulties, Dobrogosz is focused on the future, including a possible bond package for another expansion.
“This past year was horrible with the money losses and the coronavirus,” Dobrogosz said. “And we’re open today, but we’re not done. We still are going to be working down here for the next six months adding all kinds of new amenities and features that will keep it fresh.”
That includes an app that will allow visitors to point their smart phones at an exhibit and access a storyline about it, new sculptures and an endangered freshwater mussels breeding program.
“If anything this past year has taught us, it’s that the lens of science is more important than ever before in understanding not only what the coronavirus did, but society in general,” he said.
Contact Kenwyn Caranna at 336-373-7082 and follow @kcaranna on Twitter.