DECATUR, Ala. — Earlier this year, the John Cook family, owners of Cook's Pest Control, unveiled the theme and concept for a new Cook Museum of Natural Science.
In the 1960s the original Cook’s Natural Science Museum began with a few “bug collections,” primarily as an educational tool for employees of the pest control business. During the 1970s, John Cook, Sr., took the growing collection of insects and mounted wildlife on the road to share with a wider audience. In 1980, the demand to see the collection had grown to the point that a permanent museum was constructed in Decatur, Ala., and opened to the public.
By 2013, the museum had grown to include more than 1,200 specimens and extensive collections of insects, mounted birds and animals, rocks and minerals, seashells and corals. Visitors, including school groups, come from as far away as the Tennessee Valley and beyond.
THE FUTURE. The board of directors for the museum – led by Brian Cook, chief administration officer at Cook’s Pest Control and the fourth-generation of the family in the business – began discussing how to carry the legacy of the museum into the future to appeal to a new generation of visitors. The result will be a new facility with expanded exhibits and services. The name of the new non-profit organization is the Cook Museum of Natural Science. It will be located in the heart of downtown Decatur.
The new facility will encompass 35,000 square feet on a two-acre campus. There is an existing building which most recently housed a CarQuest Auto Parts store. That structure will remain as the base of the new facility, with major enhancements and additions that will create a natural science museum with a footprint seven times that of the original museum.
Market research conducted by America's Research Group, Orlando, Fla., shows an anticipated attendance the first year in excess of 200,000 people for the Cook Museum of Natural Science.
THE MISSION. The Cook Museum of Natural Science has the mission to engage, excite and educate visitors of all ages about the world around us. Museum Board President Brian Cook stated, “The theme around which we are creating the museum is, ‘Life is Amazing.’ We will include interactive, hands-on and experiential exhibits to engage our visitors in learning just how fascinating life and our Earth really are.”
Educational programs are central to the museum’s mission. The museum board has hired Schelly Corry as executive director to facilitate that goal. Corry has nearly 20 years of experience in the nature and science field, most recently working for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. One of her specialties is developing engaging science-based curricula and educational programs in a wide range of content areas for preschoolers to college students.
“Schelly is passionate about sharing nature and science with others. That characteristic, combined with her expertise in the natural science museum arena, makes her an ideal fit to help us transform the vision my grandparents began 34 years ago into the future,” Cook said.
KEY EXHIBITS. Visually, the exhibits will draw visitors in and through different ecosystems and nature systems. Live animal aquarium displays will feature animals from around the world, including a tarantula, working beehive, Madagascar hissing cockroach and chameleon. Saltwater aquariums in the ocean exhibit will display jellyfish, tropical reef fish, and coral. Visitors also will learn how shells are made and used by sea life.
Expected to be a favorite of school children is the winding, underground explorer’s cave exhibit with rocks, minerals, and other creatures found in that environment. An experiential walk-through environment showcasing wildlife such as a beaver, raccoon and migratory waterfowl will be highlighted in the Tennessee Valley and Fresh Waters area. The Southeastern U.S. hardwood forest exhibit will be an environment especially designed for children and will feature a tree walk where kids can climb, slide and explore to discover wildlife such as an owl, hummingbird, squirrel and woodpecker.
In addition to the exhibits, a café with free Wi-Fi will appeal to visitors, downtown workers, and area college students as an inviting place to enjoy sandwiches, coffee or ice cream. The classroom/birthday party room is designed for a variety of programs that will appeal to children from preschool to high school with possible Scout Badge workshops in geology, insect study or forestry.
To engage early childhood age groups, programs such as Plants and Little People or Kids and Critters and themed parties such as Mad Scientist or Wild Safari will help bring fun to learning about the natural world.
The board of directors for the Cook Museum of Natural Science is currently developing opportunities for businesses, foundations and individuals to financially contribute to and support the new non-profit museum.