On Monday morning Barclay College Professor Jerry Simmons and his wife Linda officially became the owners of the large green building to the northeast of the Main Street and U.S. 54 intersection in Haviland. The building, which was once a mobile home fabricator, a gas station, a machine shop and more recently an oil-field supply will become the Heart of America Science Resource Center in less than two years time.
"The goal is to inspire people with a lot of hands-on exhibits," said Mr. Simmons. "We think that's the best way to learn. Most museums have everything behind a glass case."
Beginning as a research paper for Mrs. Simmons' business degree, their original idea was to transform the building into self-storage, with a small museum at the front. But as costs to retrofit the 8,000-square-foot building for storage continued to rise, they began looking at other options.
A mixed-use museum and science center was the result, but it remained just an idea.
"The more we talked and thought about it I asked her 'are you sure this isn't supposed to be for real?'" said Mr. Simmons.
A flurry of tasks which included researching the building, making a down payment purchasing fixtures and Monday's close on the property is just the beginning of what will be two years of massive renovations, planning and fundraising.
"Often the two biggest bugaboos in education is math and science, math being the first and science is the second," said Mr. Simmons. "My heart's desire is to alleviate that. I want to bring the kid out in everybody. This will be a mentally and physically engaging museum."
The early planning stages show a comprehensive science display.
They have designed rooms for anthropology, archaeology, paleontology, mineralogy and geology. There are multiple classrooms, a gift shop and laboratories.
They have also designed a room for Haviland Heritage.
The group, whose stated mission is to "Preserve the history and heritage of Haviland," was formed in 2003 by Haviland residents Cheryl White, Rodney Hannan, Sheri McAfee and Delores Williams. While the group said they haven't met in a while — White is working at the Methodist Church in Pratt — they are happy to get the opportunity to share Haviland history with future museum visitors.
"We're going to give them space and let's put something here for people to see," said Mr. Simmons. "What's more important is making it part of the community.'
In keeping with the Simmons' religious beliefs, the museum will showcase science and nature as design.
"We feel that everything around us points to a designer," he said. "Design will be a big part of it. Everything here will focus on that design and will contrast the 'one track' approach of most museums."
Page 2 of 3 - Simmons, a science professor at nearby Barclay College believes that many museums focus too much on principles developed by Charles Lyell, a 19th Century geologist, and not enough on principles explained in the Bible.
"Many people would say that he was the father of geology, but he is the father of his geology. There is an opposing scientific approach, which was written in the scriptures and written in the Bible. I want people to be aware and to not be ignorant to that. That is why there is a controversy about it — between evolution and creationism. The museum won't be one-sided. The best approach in science and education is to put it all out there and let people figure it out. I want visitors to look at the inspiration around us. You hold a crystal in your hand and ask 'which does it fit' a designer, or randomness?"
Lyell is best known for his book "The Principle of Geology" published in 1830. He believed in uniformitarianism, that the earth and geology is the direct result of slow-moving changes made over time. In his later life, Lyell became friends with Charles Darwin, the father of modern evolution.
"His whole purpose and his talks was to show an anti-Moses stance," said Mr. Simmons. "It was a direct affront to scripture. He believed that all of science investigation should be done as if the scriptures don't exist. That was his position."
"Everybody has a certain set of beliefs and perspective on life," added Mrs. Simmons. "Our world view colors everything we see. When you go into a museum you see all of the evidence presented from one worldview, which is the evolutionary and naturalistic worldview. We want a museum where people can see the beauty that god created in the world and it will become obvious 'hey that makes sense.'"
During an interview with Simmons for the "Kiowa County Collectors" feature, which ran earlier this year, he expressed an interest in his collection of minerals, glass, antique bottles and privy-dug items to one day end up in a museum. He said he is happy it is happening sooner rather than later.
"It's a dream come true," he said. "To be able to share with others the beautiful things that I have stashed away for years. To be able to bring that out for people to enjoy. That's my heart."
With a higher-end estimated cost of $250,000, the Simons' are beginning to raise money to complete construction, which they predict will be finished in the spring of 2014.
They have formed a 501c(3) non-profit corporation and established a board.
Donations to 501c(3)'s are tax deductible.
Their plan is to begin construction on the front half of the museum first, to allow seminars and lab workshops to begin earlier than the two-year completion date.
Page 3 of 3 - They admit that the next two years will be "busy." Design, construction, setting hours and ticket prices are only a small portion of the work to be done before the doors officially open. "God keeps saying, 'take it one step at a time,'" added Mrs. Simmons.