By Dave Ongie, News Editor
The challenge for the folks at Hands On! Discover Center has been monumental – find a way to facilitate a hands-on experience in a hands-off world.
After being closed for months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, weeks of tireless work paid off on Tuesday when Hands On! opened its doors to the public. Following the Tennessee Pledge guidelines, Hands On! began a phased reopening with modified safety precautions in place to protect the health of the families who visit the facility.
“We have always prided ourselves in offering a really safe, clean and fun environment,” said Hands On! CEO Andy Marquart, “We plan keep doing that even in the midst of a pandemic.”
During the reopening phase, the discovery center will be open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. on Tuesday through Saturday. Anyone who enters the facility will be required to wear a mask and apply hand sanitizer. There will be additional hand washing stations and hand sanitizer located throughout the exhibit halls, and the facility will undergo a deep cleaning at the end of each day.
Marquart said the museum staff had extensive conversations with health officials to learn the best way to protect visitors from the coronavirus, and the Tennessee Pledge guidelines offered parameters to help develop a plan to open the facility in a responsible manner.
With social distancing in mind, the Paleo Tower play area will be closed initially, and tours, Tesla shows and additional lab programs will be unavailable. Since there will be an attendance cap to promote distancing, Marquart encouraged guests to purchase tickets in advance or make a reservation online to ensure entry.
“That way you guarantee yourself a slot for the day,” he said. “We’re preselling two three-hour blocks. You can come anytime within that three-hour block if you purchase tickets.”
Guests will be able to reserve time either between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. or 2-5 p.m. Annual pass holders are also being asked to reserve their time online in advance. Marquart said there will be room for walk-ups, but if capacity is reached, those without reservations will be turned away. Tickets and reservations are available at: visithandson.org/tickets.
The extended shutdown has taken a heavy financial toll on the discovery center, but Marquart said a plan is in place to help minimize expenses, maximize income and kickstart fundraising efforts to help the facility weather the pandemic.
“We’re looking at an 18- to 24-month plan to basically operate a certain way that allows us to gradually come back to life,” he said.
Marquart said Hands On! will continue to offer its popular Discovery Kits, which offer take-home art or science experiences. The fun, educational projects offer parents a way to take a piece of the Hands On! experience home to children who aren’t able to visit the center in person during the pandemic or kids who simply want to take a piece of the discovery center home with them at the end of their visit.