$21.5M Children's Museum 'Amazeum' Taking Shape in Bentonville

by Marty Cook  on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014 12:00 am  

Sweat gathered in Sam Dean’s shirt collar under a relentless midday sun Tuesday.

Dean, the executive director of the Amazeum, was too stoked about the $14.5 million erector set going up on Northeast J Street in Bentonville to notice. The Amazeum, billed as an interactive children’s museum, isn’t scheduled to open until 2015, but after years of planning it is at least beginning to take physical shape.

The concrete floor has been laid and most of the interior steel frame has gone up. In the near-formless open space underneath the exoskeleton, Dean is the proverbial kid in a candy store, excitedly pointing out where attractions such as a “Tinkering” station, a water lab and climbing canopy will be situated.

This is a man who stops the tour briefly to describe some underground system so you can understand why he wants his office at the building to be in the tree house. Yes, there will be a tree house in the Amazeum.

“It’s an active-verb kind of place,” Dean said. “It’ll be a place you craft, you create. We are giddy. We are that excited about it.”

The Amazeum — whose total cost factoring in exhibits will be $21.5 million — was designed by Haizlip Studio of Memphis and is being built by Nabholz Construction Services of Rogers. When it’s completed, Dean said, the Amazeum will be nearly 50,000 SF with an acre outside.

“You really won’t be able to experience it all in one day,” Dean said. “We want to make it an experience you have to come back to.”

The Amazeum website at Amazeum.org has an interactive construction webcam so the public can follow the progress. Dean said some people have changed their driving routes so they can pass the site to see how the construction is going.

Dean once thought about becoming a doctor before he fell in love with museum work while doing medical research. He has performed science experiments for children on television as “Sam Dean the science machine.”

His vision of the Amazeum is a place where children can get their hands on things, break them and then put them back together.

“I love the idea — asking really cool questions like what’s inside an earthworm, to a cow’s eye dissection,” said Dean, originally from Toledo, Ohio. “If you cut open a cow’s eye, you see what your own eyeball looks like. I would argue it’s life-changing. It’s amazing.”

The Amazeum was first conceived in 2006 and got its first boost with a $10 million grant from the Walton Family Foundation. The museum is being built on 5 acres donated by Rob and Melani Walton at the tip of the entrance road to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.



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