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Vintage schooner to make voyage to Hands on Children’s Museum

Restored schooner to become newest permanent display at Hands On Children’s Museum

Hands On Children's Museum executive director Patty Belmonte and Drew Phillips from FORMA Construction Company outline the schooner Megan D restoration Monday at the Swantown Boatworks in Olympia. It will become a permanent display at the museum.
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Hands On Children's Museum executive director Patty Belmonte and Drew Phillips from FORMA Construction Company outline the schooner Megan D restoration Monday at the Swantown Boatworks in Olympia. It will become a permanent display at the museum.

The Hands on Children’s Museum is hoping for a boatload of new attendees this fall, thanks to a generous grant and a new restoration project.

The Megan D is a 56-foot, vintage schooner saved from the Port of Olympia’s boneyard last year and bought by the Hands on Children’s Museum using a $200,000 grant from the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust.

The museum plans to ground the ship in their Puget Sound Beach exhibit, allowing children to explore the ship as they learn about the history of schooners in the Puget Sound.

On Wednesday morning, the museum will close the southbound lane of Marine Drive to transport the wooden vessel from its renovation site at the Port’s Swantown Boatworks to the museum’s Outdoor Discovery Center. A giant Snell Crane is expected to lift the vessel from the roadway at about 11 a.m., move it over the museum’s trike loop and land it in its new foundation in the Puget Sound Beach exhibit.

Patty Belmonte, executive director of the museum, said the museum had been looking for a new, permanent, outdoor exhibit to replace a temporary environmental sculpture. When Belmonte learned of the Megan D, she knew it would be a unique addition to the Outdoor Discovery Center.

“If you look across the country, there are a number of fabricated ships in other children’s museums, but it’s really rare for a children’s museum to feature an actual vessel,” Belmonte said. “It’s even more rare for children to be able to climb all over a vessel and explore it.”

Kids will be able to crawl down into the hull and climb up a rope bridge to the recreated top deck. The ship can comfortably hold 12 children at a time, and Belmont hopes this will help spur interest and increase activity in the outdoor space.

“The boat offers opportunities to utilize cross motor and movement components as well, which are important ways that children learn,” Belmonte said.

The museum initially applied for a grant through the Murdock Trust to help cover a variety of elements within the museum’s “Phase II” project focused on the Outdoor Discovery Center. But the grant, which was awarded earlier this year, will now primarily cover the cost of restoring the Megan D, one of the last components of the exhibit.

The M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, created by the will of Pacific Northwest entrepreneur Melvin J. Murdock, provides grants to businesses in the region in the areas of arts and culture, education, health, human services and scientific research, according to Dana Miller, senior program director for grants.

“We see museums as an unbelievable educational opportunity for many people — which is true of the Hands on Children’s Museum,” Miller said. “They give kids great experiences in learning and in interactive displays that bring to life many aspects of the world we live in, including science, which is one of the things we really value because of our founder.”

This is Murdock’s third grant to the museum over the years.

The boat’s restoration team has been working to clean and sand the boat, replace any rotten wood, and rebuild the pilot house.

Dale Harrison, the project manager for the restoration, said the team rebuilding the ship is made up of volunteer retired carpenters from FORMA Construction, many of whom helped build the museum.

“Last winter we decided to come down and keep ourselves occupied,” Harrison said. “We’re all having fun.”

Once the schooner arrives at the museum, it will still need to be painted and interactive displays added. According to Belmonte, the exhibit is scheduled to open sometime in August.

“Part of the beauty of a community-built project is that people are donating out of the goodness of their hearts and schedules, so we have to be somewhat flexible,” Belmonte said. “But it’ll be fun for visitors to watch the progress over the summer.

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