The T-Rex Science Center opens Friday, but not when creator Scott Breeden wanted or even where he intended.
The dinosaur discovery museum was supposed to open in August at the former Purity Maid Bread factory, on Bigley Avenue, in Charleston — a leaky, dilapidated industrial building that was being used by area artists and musicians as rehearsal space, workshops and storage.
Instead, a scaled-down version of the museum will be operated out of the rear half of the SkyZone trampoline park, behind the Southridge Walmart.
Breeden said he hoped this would just be a temporary location.
“We had the best of intentions and hopes,” he said. “We went into the building on Bigley with a lot of plans. We thought once we announced what we were doing with the dinosaurs and showed it off, people would jump in to help fund it.”
“We had a lot of people willing to donate their time,” Breeden said. “We’re grateful for that, but we haven’t had much help with the funding.”
Disappointed but undeterred, Breeden, his partners, and his volunteers decided the best way to move forward was to lease space somewhere else.
The T-Rex Center will charge $15 for admission (children 2 and under get in free) to show visitors a variety of fossil- and dinosaur-related exhibits. The museum has both dinosaur bones and fossil castings of bones on display, along with a range of activities meant to teach more than entertain.
Visitors can dig for bones, pan for gemstones and learn about the different ages of life on earth. Breeden said they had three volunteer paleontologists who would be spending time in the building working with fossils and talking with visitors.
“We wanted to be a good place for science,” he said. “We feel like it’s something needed in our area.”
There’s also a gift shop, open to the public without admission, that sells fossils, items like plates and jewelry made from fossils, gemstones and dinosaur-related games and toys.
Breeden envisions the T-Rex Center as being a destination for families, school groups and the curious. He said they’re already booking birthday parties and have their first school group scheduled for a visit next week.
“It’s a home-school group,” he said.
Breeden, a third-generation stone mason, became interested in fossils almost two years ago after he uncovered a fossil and began talking with geologist and paleontologist Ray Garton, curator of the mini-museum at the West Virginia Geological and Economic Survey, near Morgantown.
Gathering a group of investors, including his close friend Jeff Mason, they started the T-Rex Science Center.
Mason laughed and said, “I didn’t know a thing about dinosaurs when I started this. I know quite a bit more now.”
Realizing Breeden’s vision comes with a hefty price tag: about $1 million.
Even with volunteers pitching in to help, Breeden acknowledges the $15 admission price and whatever money is made from selling plush sloths and fossilized dinosaur poop probably won’t raise the kind of money that will lead to taking the T-Rex Science Center home to Bigley Avenue.
But Breeden said it’s not meant to.
“What we hope is that this will open the eyes of the public to what’s possible and people will jump on board and support it,” he said.
There’s quite a bit to see and do in the Southridge location, but Breeden said there would be a lot more at Bigley. They only moved some of what they have from the West Side building, and the temporary museum site is smaller.
“We’ve got around 26,000 square feet here,” he said. “At Bigley, we would have 55,000 square feet downstairs and another 40,000 upstairs, which would be used as a fossil repository.”
Currently, Breeden explained, most museum-grade fossils found in West Virginia are sent out of state, instead of being displayed locally.
While he said he’d love for the science center’s time in Southridge to be brief, he expected it would take some time before they’d be able to raise the million dollars.
“This is probably going to go slow,” he said.
Even with limited space and facilities, Breeden said they were working to do as much as they can with the location they have. He said they were in talks with representatives from Toyota to do something at the museum about robotics. Scientists from the Green Bank Observatory, Breeden said, had expressed some interest in doing a program, and they were talking with professors at Marshall University.
In the meantime, he said they hoped people would come, explore and maybe imagine what else they could do.
“We’re not the Smithsonian,” Mason said. “A lot of kids here may never get to see that, but they can get a taste of it and who knows, it might spark something.”
The T-Rex Science Center aims to be educational, but Breeden said it’s supposed to be fun, too.
“Saturday, we’ve got Turtle Man coming out. He’s on Animal Planet. People love him. He’s bringing something and will be signing autographs,” Breeden added.
The T-Rex Science Center opens 4 p.m. today. Regular hours will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.