2011 Shows Progress for Union City’s Discovery Park NPR - Seth Helton

MURRAY, KY (wkms) - Drivers on Highway 51 in Union City can now see visible progress on the 60 million-dollar Discovery Park. It's an educational tourist attraction combining traditional museum exhibits and interactive entertainment. The park faced construction setbacks when the project's original architect was let go three years ago. Now, as WKMS's Seth Helton reports a new architect and refreshed focus have jumpstarted the project.

Construction workers slosh through the mud at the site as rain has slowed progress here. But, nonetheless, the 50 acre site is bustling with landscapers planting trees and workers erecting steel on the Discovery Center museum.

Planning for Union City's Discovery Park began in 2006. That's when, the owner of the Kirkland's retail chain, Robert Kirkland, wanted to develop a project in his hometown to create educational opportunities for students. Director of the park Polly Brasher says the earliest plans for the park were announced by Kirkland in private.

"He put a vision team together. There were four people that met, sworn to secrecy for an entire year, because he didn't want people to know about this if it wasn't really going to happen. After a year of discussions and planning and interviews, we had the first architect on board and we announced to the public what we wanted to do."

Kirkland wanted the project to be on par with the science centers of larger cities to keep students from taking longer, and more expensive trips to cities like Memphis, Nashville or St. Louis. To do that, the Robert E and Jenny D Kirkland foundation contributed 60 million dollars for the project.

So, with the funding and architect in place, workers broke ground on the park during the summer of 2008. But, in 2009 disputes with Douglas Cardinal Architects led to termination of their contract and the halting of the project. Then in 2010 Vernor-Johnson Associates from Boston signed on as the Discovery Park's new architect. They chose to scrap the original designs and start over. That leads us to 2011 which has seen the development of the park recover and hushed doubts of the project being scrapped. Discovery Park's communications and development director Larry Snider:

"There has been some skepticism in Union City about it Is this really going to happen?' Especially after we had the delay from the first architect problem. But now that we have plans worked out and now that people can see the tower and the steel going up, that seems to be drifting away."

The most visible progress is the foundation of the 100,000 square foot Discovery Center, The center will house most of the exhibits and be the centerpiece of Discovery Park. Most striking is the completion of the concrete core of the tower overlooking Discovery Park. The Tower rises 150' above the ground and when finished will include an outdoor observation area and glass inserts in the floor which will give guest the illusion of standing on air. Specialist crews work with a crane operator weld the pre-fabricated stair sections together on the tower.

After two years marred by challenges and false starts, 2011 has been the first successful year for physical construction at the Discovery Park. It will take another year and a half before all work is completed with the anticipation of a spring 2013 opening. © Copyright 2012, wkms