A science museum seems like a quaint idea in the interactive Internet age.
Lewis Crampton, president of the South Florida Science Museum, thinks so, too.
He believes, in effect, that "museum" suggests a lot of moseying around, observing and musing. This summer, at a formal unveiling of its renovated building, the half-century-old institution will reopen as the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium.
It will be a little more adult, Crampton said, but it will also be a "high-touch museum, where folks come to do science and not look at it."
To that end, he has made a few changes to the place. Since taking over in 2010, Crampton, 74, set about raising $5 million during a recession to build thousands of new square feet for an aquarium and for big-ticket traveling exhibits.
They raised admission rates, and even so, annual museum attendance grew by more than 25,000, he said.
"We've made something really terrific out of what was going to be kicked to the curb," says Crampton, who originally came to Florida to play golf and sing in a local choir.
The museum thwarted his plans when it needed a new chief. Crampton, a Princeton/Harvard/MIT-educated former politician, had just been featured in a local news article about his tenure leading the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Ill.
There, he decided the museum needed a dinosaur to entice visitors. So he dispatched a team of researchers to Montana to find one. They ended up making one the most important Tyrannosaurus rex discoveries of the decade and hauling it back to Burpee.
Museum attendance nearly quintupled that year.
The board of directors in South Florida persuaded Crampton to postpone his retirement.
"Everything about this organization has changed," said Kate Arrizza, who joined the museum as chief operating officer in 2009, just before Crampton's arrival.
They started offering a lecture series on the science of different things: chocolate, beer and wine, for example. They gave samples and brought in a chocolate fountain.
High staff turnover stabilized, Arrizza said. Employees gained a sense of mission.
"Everyone knows that we are going toward our goal," she said.
On a recent afternoon, Crampton opened a plywood door that concealed the unfinished aquarium wing. When it opens June 7, there will be a touch tank full of rays and horseshoe crabs. In one corner, people will be able to stand inside a hurricane-force wind booth and watch their skin ripple.
Off to the side is an empty crate labeled "dolichorynchops" with an arrow pointing up. Another crate carried the bones of a 17-foot turtle. These are part of an ancient seas exhibit on now, the first of the "blockbuster" attractions, as Crampton calls them.
Even after all the exhibit purchases, construction and a $1.6 million budget increase, the museum still has money left over. So Crampton says he won't retire just yet.
"There's still plenty of things to do here," Crampton said.
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For more information about the South Florida Science Museum, call 561-832-1988.