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FFKR Achitects
Architect's rendering of WaterWorks exhibit space at the new Museum of Natural Curiosity at Thanksgiving Point in Lehi slated to open in the spring of 2014.
All of us are all giddy. It'll be as much fun for us as for them. —Blake Wigdahl

LEHI — Gone is the era of the "Look, don't touch" children's museum.

The Museum of Natural Curiosity — set to open a year from now on a site between the gardens and the golf course at Thanksgiving Point — is all about children touching, exploring, climbing, even swinging from the treetops and giving energy to the kid's version of a hamster wheel.

"We designed something for kids like us," explained Blake Wigdahl, vice president of design and programming for Thanksgiving Point.

Okland construction is building 45,000 square feet of innovative space, which will include outdoor features with its indoor plans. The 150-plus exhibits are being designed by the Roto Group in Dublin, Ohio, and will be moved into place in the upcoming months.

So while it looks like a fairly empty glass and steel structure at this point, in another 12 months, it'll be a finished, state-of-the-art destination point museum with a wide range of physical activities and educational adventures for kids of every age.

Exhibits include five major components: a rainforest where youngsters can learn about ecosystems, ancient cultures and swing through the jungle on rope bridges; an interactive Waterworks site where children play in sand tables and make water geysers go; "Kidopolis," a compressed town that offers a magic shop, a working bank, a library and studios for dancers and artists; traveling exhibits featuring the latest in science education; and the existing 5-acre Children's Discovery Garden, which will be linked to the new museum.

"Learning has never been so dynamic than by touching the rocks, feeling the wind and creating ice sculptures," said Britnee Johnston, communications manager for Thanksgiving Point. "It's not a linear experience."

"This is designed for the whole family," said Wigdahl, standing inside what will become a 45-foot monkey head complete with a secret entrance accessed by the suspension bridge of ropes.

"All of us are all giddy," Wigdahl said. "It'll be as much fun for us as for them."

The monkey head is next to a room that is actually a giant Waterworks sink just below the ropes course, the waterfall, the "key" tree, the bubble organ and the airplane crash site.

"This is not a sit-down-and-watch-the-kids-play experience. It's designed to be highly interactive structured around the idea of simply curiosity. How does it work? Why does it work?" Wigdahl said.

The new museum is a $27 million project in conception for the past six years and under actual construction since October 2012. Local private donors along with Lehi City and Utah County are funding the effort, which will serve families not only in Utah County but from all across the nation and the world.

"It's like a giant Tinkertoy set," said Justin Wallis, with FFKR Architects, who designed the sleek glass LEEDS-certified building.

Johnston said it's anticipated the museum will draw an average of 300,000 visitors annually.

"We listened to the public. We wanted to be something new," Wigdahl said. "What it will be is new every time people visit. Our design philosophy is perpetual prototyping."

For detailed information, free games and construction progress, visit RUcurious2.org.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com