There is a quiet sense of giddiness, standing in a certain spot in San Antonio and knowing something really big and transformative is coming, when so few people in the city yet realize that something big lies on the horizon.
I felt that way after taking my first hard hat tour of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, which will open in September, my imagination playing symphonies like they've never been heard in San Antonio.
The same feeling bubbled to the surface Wednesday during my latest hard hat tour of the The DoSeum at 2800 Broadway St., across from Brackenridge Park. San Antonio's new, greatly expanded Children's Museum will crack open its doors April 1 and open officially June 1.
I felt my inner child stir to life as The DoSeum CEO Vanessa Lacoss Hurd and her team led a media herd through the construction site to assess progress and imagine the possibilities. It's enough to make you wish you were a fourth grader again on an all-day field trip.
"We are smack dab in the middle of seven major cultural institutions in our city," Hurd proclaimed, clearly proud of what is fast taking shape on the site of a former automobile dealership.
Hurd led the Wednesday morning tour through the The DoSeum's interior exhibition areas and outdoor activity and recreation spaces, trailed by construction managers and members of the design team, public relations staff, and others, stopping every few yards to paint a picture of what's to come.
"We are leveling the sandbox so that all of San Antonio's children come here to learn and play, and all their parents will feel comfortable coming here," she said.
The DoSeum's tagline is "San Antonio's museum for kids", but Hurd sees it as even more. The new world she is building will be an important learning destination for children from birth to age 10, a place where kids will equate science, technology, engineering, and math with fun. No tests, no homework, just hands-on, interactive learning.
Hurd also sees the The DoSeum as a gathering place for all of the city's socioeconomic classes, a critically important goal as San Antonio experiences rapid growth and evolution, and with it, stress fractures as rapid change benefits many, yet leaves some behind.
The Children Museum's current East Houston location, which will close for good on March 31, is problematic as a welcoming destination for one and all in the city. The downtown address turns off some suburbanites and prices out some inner city families.
"Parking downtown costs anywhere from $10 to $20," Hurd remarked. "The DoSeum parking will be right out the back door and it will be free."
Downtown dining options also are limited for families and, again, pricey. The DoSeum will have its own affordable, healthy eating cafe, a place to subtly teach children (and their parents) about nutrition and wellness even as they chow down during family visits and field trips.
"When kids start to get hungry, they cannot learn," Hurd said. "We will feed them."
There is no place for school buses to stage downtown. The new Broadway location, set amid six acres, will have ample room for field trip transport. Hurd expects a fourfold increase in student traffic, which means 300,000 students a year will pass through the Do-Seum. Starting next year, virtually every school child in Bexar County will experience an imagination-opening day at The DoSeum. They will want to come back with their parents.
Great cities have great museums, including great children's museums, and San Antonio seems on the cusp of checking one more box on its way to becoming a more complete city. A spacious work space inside the museum will allow craft workers to build exhibits, and one of the new exhibition spaces will allow The DoSeum officials to bring in traveling exhibitions; again, the hallmark of a national-caliber museum, yet something long missing from San Antonio's cultural landscape.
Even people who do not have children or do not allow themselves the sublime pleasure of an afternoon slowly wandering a museum will not be able to escape the The DoSeum and its place in the Midtown panorama.
A $20 million gift from Charles Butt, Chairman and CEO of H-E-B, has made a lot of extras possible, and Hurd is now nearing the finish line on fundraising for the $46 million enterprise.
Utility lines along Broadway will be buried. A "front yard" earthen berm will absorb road noise and serve as a natural safety barrier between the Do-Seum's outdoor spaces and the street. A "tumbling hill" built near the entrance will invite kids to cut loose. A pair of heritage live oak trees rescued from the newly-developed Brackendridge at Midtown Apartments behind The DoSeum will provide shaded "story telling" spaces.
"We're pushing to finish all the construction by November," said Cosmo M. Guido, The DoSeum project manager and a fourth generation member of Guido Brothers Construction, the San Antonio family business. "We're excited. We're having a lot of fun."
The DoSeum wil be a LEED Gold-rated project. It will boast the city's largest PV solar demonstration project, a 225 kilowatt rooftop array that will provide 30 percent of the building cluster's energy needs. Capturing the water condensate from the HVAC systems will produce 60,000 gallons of water during the hot summer months for landscape watering. A "rich and diverse" landscaping will make The DoSeum a visual extension of the nearby Brackenridge Park.
The Lake|Flato design of The DoSeum seems at once recognizable, and yet different. The procession of three separate buildings, linked by open spaces and artfully planned outdoor learning environments, seems more boxlike and geometric that much of the firm's work, although so much exterior detail work remains to be done it would be premature to define the project now.
"San Antonio has a great tradition of masonry, and we wanted something that spoke to that, so you see earth tones," said Trey Rabke, Lake|Flato's project architect, describing the sequential coloring of walls and painted metal roof trim. Gabion fences, normally filled with stones, will include panels filled with recycled blue glass, lighted at night to draw the eye of passersby. Earth tone metallic wall borders and hand-punched aluminum screens will be added to the exterior walls soon, too.
It will be the exterior landscaping come November, however, that will truly give onlookers an understanding of what is coming where cars and trucks were once sold and repaired. Come 2015, it will not be business as usual in San Antonio, not for our children, and not for your or my inner child.
* Opening image: rendering courtesy of Lake/Flato Architects.
*Top/featured photo: An ariel view of the incomplete The DoSeum. Photo by Brantley Hightower.