Oh Wow to Put Out RFQs for $4M Renovation

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Oh Wow! The Roger & Gloria Jones Children’s Center for Science & Technology might be closed to the public because of the coronavirus outbreak, but it is moving forward on its planned renovation.

The project, which President and Executive Director Suzanne Barbati expects to be substantially completed by Oh Wow’s 2021 birthday, will incorporate an enhancement to a service it began during the closing. 

A request for qualifications for architects is being released in the coming days for the project, which is estimated at $4 million, Barbati said. 

The renovation of the McCrory Building, which Oh Wow formally took over last year, is the third phase of what Barbati characterizes as a 15-year, $15 million campaign. 

“We are looking to have the professional services start in June, construction notice to proceed in September and substantial work completed by our birthday next year,” Barbati said. “It’s a pretty aggressive timeline but that’s how we roll at Oh Wow. Until somebody tells us it can’t be done, we’re moving forward.” 

Elements of the project as envisioned by Barbati and Oh Wow’s board of directors include renovating the main floor and lower level exhibit spaces, as well as part of the second floor, which Youngstown CityScape now occupies. Plans also call for reorienting Oh Wow’s main entrance, which now faces West Federal Street, to Market Street. 

“We’re very excited about it. It’s something that we’ve been planning for many, many years ” said Charles George, CEO of Hapco Inc. and chairman of Oh Wow’s board of directors. 

Being able to acquire the McCrory Building, which “allows us to control our own destiny,” represents “another step along the road” of expanding Oh Wow’s services, he said. 

Though Barbati will rely on input from the architect the museum hires, one element the renovation likely will include is a permanent video production studio. 

The necessity of such a space has been highlighted by the virtual presentations that Oh Wow educators have been producing while the center has been closed during the pandemic. 

“We’ve learned that we have a need to set up a permanent studio where we can continue to produce those videos in high quality that we know our audience is looking for,” he said.    

That studio potentially would be on the second floor, where Barbati also plans to relocate the center’s offices, which now are located in the lower level. 

The RFQ also will call for creating a 3D digital model for the museum’s footprint to provide “a better concept of how the exhibits will actually fit together, work together and what they would look like together,” he said. 

A separate design firm will be engaged to design exhibits at a later phase, Barbati said. 

“We know that we want a sensory-sensitive area on the first floor,” she said. We know that we want an energy zone on the first floor.” 

In addition, she wants to employ soundproofing or “some new technology out there” to make Oh Wow “a little less noisy,” she said. 

“Those are all components that we’re looking for but we’re also looking for other suggestions as well,” she said. 

George reported he is working with the partners behind the upcoming multimillion-dollar downtown infrastructure project to see if that could include a turnaround in front of the new Oh Wow entrance similar to that at the DoubleTree by Hilton Youngstown Downtown hotel to improve safety for visitors. 

“We would have to come up with some funds and we’re reaching out to some of the foundations and some of the funders to get that done,” he said.

Fundraising for the campaign remains underway, but Oh Wow has “several commitments,” she said. Also, a decision on whether Oh Wow will operate during the renovation has not been made yet.   

“I don’t think anybody knows what tomorrow’s going to bring,” she said. “We’re going to wait and see before we make that decision.”

There is no reason that Oh Wow visitors shouldn’t have the opportunity to see premier exhibits, George said. 

“We have a great facility now – it’s as good as anything out there – but we want to continue to be as good as or better than anything out there,” he said. 

Pictured: A rendering of a renovated front entrance for Oh Wow. The children’s science museum has put of a request for proposals for its $4 million renovation.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.