Washington County just slammed the door on one of the most innovative and interactive programs in the multi-state area, the Hands On! Regional Museum in Johnson City. Founded in 1986, the museum over the years has more than doubled its exhibit space and has been visited by more than 1.5 million people coming from nearly all 50 states.
Children from 40 school systems in four states regularly visit Hands On! to engage in its hundreds of programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. The museum’s mission is to inspire discovery and understanding of science and the arts in a place where learning and fun go hand in hand. And Hands On! is looking for new quarters.
The museum wants to relocate to the Gray Fossil Site in Washington County, where it would construct a new building to put in place the footprint to continue to grow and expand, with the goal of becoming a premier destination for interactive discovery.
To that end, it approached the Washington County Commission seeking $50,000 per year for a 10-year period to help with expenses and the cost of transitioning the museum, expanding it from a children’s museum to an all-ages discovery center. But it was turned down, despite the fact that the museum attracts some 70,000 visitors every year with the promise of pulling more — many more — when it completes its plan of expansion.
Washington County commissioners got into arguments about funding some agencies and not funding other agencies, and when all was said and done, walked away from Hands On! Could that open a door for Hands On! to look elsewhere for a home? Kingsport, perhaps?
Hands On! has been expertly managed for decades and has a plan for the future. And we have no doubt the museum will make that plan happen one way or another, in one location or another.
Could it happen in Kingsport? Could space be found for the museum to build or to move into an existing property? How about City Hall, which will be vacated when city employees move to the Regions Bank building?
Hands On! would be perfect for downtown Kingsport, contributing a major boost to the city’s efforts to redevelop that area. But first, the city needs to see the opportunity and solicit any interest from Hands On!