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ScienceWorks switches to weekend-only schedule

ASHLAND — ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum will be open only on weekends starting Aug. 1, due to a sharp drop in attendance because of the pandemic, facility director Dan Ruby said.

From June 15 — when the museum reopened following a three-month closure — to July 15, the museum saw 730 visitors, Ruby said. In 2019, about 5,800 people walked through the doors during the same period. Visits from locals have dropped about 75%, while tourist visits are down about 85%, according to Ruby.

“We’re learning that we can’t operate the way we used to, which is being super busy during the summer,” Ruby said. “There’s just no pressure in the lines. People are not going out.”

From a public health perspective, the attendance drop is a good thing, Ruby says, but the financial impact is tough.

“(It’s) the most discouraged I’ve felt through all of this,” Ruby said. “But we’re looking at everything as an opportunity instead of a hindrance.”

The new hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead.

The facility closed in mid-March following Gov. Kate Brown’s lockdown order. It reopened June 15 when Oregon’s phase one reopening guidelines went into effect. The museum laid off some staff — mostly front desk positions — and reduced hours for others, Ruby said.

The June reopening came with numerous altered protocols, multiple hands-on attractions were closed, such as the Bubble Room and Da Vinci’s Garage, while others were modified to be “low-touch” so they would be easier to sanitize at frequently. The children’s play area, formerly called Discovery Island, also got a makeover. The space, now called Pacific Crest Cove, was transformed into a play area and can double as a classroom. Much of the facility received a fresh coat of paint, too, Ruby said.

Patrons are required to wear masks, are asked to frequently wash hands, and an attendance cap was added. Visits are limited to two hours, according to the ScienceWorks website.

Museum camps are still running, with camper cohorts capped at 10, along with the usual mask and physical distancing requirements.

“Those have been doing better than we expected, for sure,” Ruby said.

More plans are in the works, Ruby said. The facility’s pterosaur exhibit, produced in house, has been leased out. It hits the road in January 2021, with its first stop at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding. The museum is also working on some content for a museum in Australia, and new partnerships with the Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market and the Ashland Independent Film Festival are in the works, Ruby said.

“We’re just pivoting,” he said.

Reach web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanPfeil.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneDan Ruby stands next to the mission control exhibit Tuesday at ScienceWorks in Ashland.