KU Natural History Museum to expand programming this year; first up, Sunday’s ‘Extraordinary Animals’

photo by: Nick Krug

Worker Angelo Epps chisels away some of the mortar below one of the Dyche Hall grotesques perched outside the seventh floor as work continues, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017 along the exterior of the building on the campus of the University of Kansas. The grotesques, which have suffered significant erosion, have been a part of Dyche Hall for nearly 115 years, according to KU officials. The museum is currently seeking bids for carved recreations of the grotesques as the originals will be removed and placed in the Panorama Gallery of the KU Natural History Museum.

Dyche Hall is getting a facelift this year. That much is clear to anyone who’s passed by the historic limestone building, home to the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, over the last several months.

“We’ve got several stories of scaffolding all across the museum — you can’t miss it,” joked Jen Humphrey, director of external affairs.

Crews are expected to complete work on the $4.2 million state-funded renovations later this winter, unveiling a freshly cleaned and repaired stonework exterior, a new roof, windows and internal walls, and the seventh floor restored (with an upgraded HVAC system) to its original splendor.

The iconic grotesques — like gargoyles, but without the waterspouts — that long adorned the building’s facade were taken down and reinstalled inside the building last fall. At some point, they’ll be replaced along the exterior with hand-carved replicas.

But museum leaders are also planning a makeover of sorts that extends beyond the building’s actual brick and mortar, spurred by recent growth in attendance and five years of increased donations.

“I think that both of those things speak to the fact that we’ve increased the amount of programming that we’re offering across families and university students on campus and off campus,” Humphrey said, “and people seeing the value in what we offer.”

The Natural History Museum is rolling out several new programs this year with an emphasis on community engagement. Though the full lineup won’t be announced until next week, one of the museum’s new recurring events will debut a little ahead of schedule.

Sunday’s first installment of “Extraordinary Animals,” slated for 1 to 3 p.m., will welcome animal specialist Ashley Welton to Dyche Hall, 1345 Jayhawk Blvd. Welton will introduce visitors to new, “touchable” specimens and themes every month as part of the program, Humphrey said. Sunday’s event will focus on animals native to the Sunflower State — think prairie dogs, box turtles, foxes, opossums and the like — just in time for Kansas Day on Jan. 29.

The museum also plans on expanding its hands-on “Discovery Days” for local students during weekends and school holidays. Dyche Hall’s mobile museum (literally a mini institution on wheels) debuted last fall to warm receptions at the Douglas County Water Festival, the Lawrence Public Library and outside KU’s Kansas Memorial Union.

“We’re hoping to take it to rural school districts in northeast Kansas in 2018,” Humphrey said.

“We want to bring the museum to people off-campus who may not have had an opportunity to visit the museum before or haven’t been recently,” she added.

Also in the mix: new programming specifically tailored for homeschooling groups, scouts and children’s birthday parties, as well as plans to take the museum’s popular “Science on Tap” series on the road to Kansas City.

If there’s some enjoyment to be had in all that book learning, even better.

“In short, we want people to get excited about the world they live in and learn more about conservation, encouraging more people to be stewards of the planet,” Humphrey said. “And we want it to be fun, too.”