Flint, MI—Sloan Museum of Discovery is set to reopen on July 16, 2022 following a multi-year, $30 million renovation. As the local history and science destination enters the final phase of remodeling here’s a sneak peek at its fresh design.

“We really didn’t go beyond our (building’s) edges,” said Cathy Gentry, Sloan Museum and Longway Planetarium’s Director of Business Operations, of the updated museum. “But we doubled our footprint. You’ll see around 111,000 square feet.”

Gentry noted that part of the building’s doubled square footage came from enclosing its former courtyard to make “Discovery Hall.”

“We had a lot of weddings in the courtyard,” she said. “We had some urban camping. But it was only able to be used about three, maybe four months a year.” 

Discovery Hall is currently empty, but it will ultimately house a globe-like structure for guests to climb on alongside a water table where they can learn about the formation of the Great Lakes. 

Cathy Gentry, Sloan and Longway Planetarium’s Director of Business Operations, shows off the former courtyard at the renovated Sloan Museum of Discovery on March 7, 2022. The enclosure almost doubled the amount of space in the existing museum. Sloan has been under renovation since 2018 and is slated to open in mid-July. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Also created from the former courtyard is a new maker space “where kids and adults can learn how to tinker,” Gentry said.

“There are people who are not aware of how to use tools properly—how to use power tools,” Gentry continued as she walked a tour group through an assortment of work stations in the maker space. Some in the group nodded, pointing playfully at themselves. “We wanted to make a space where it’s safe to ask questions and come up with new ideas.”

Aside from Discovery Hall and its attractions, the redesigned Sloan Museum includes a light-filled lobby with a Coffee Beanery, multiple “Learning Labs” for programming, an Early Childhood Gallery, and an 11,000-square-foot gallery to display the museum’s vast collection of vehicles.

“And when I say vehicles, I don’t just mean cars and trucks,” Gentry said. “I mean sleighs, sleds, wagons, bicycles, motorcycles … and a camper.”

The new vehicle gallery of the Sloan Museum of Discovery in Flint, Mich. on March 7, 2022. The museum’s multi-million dollar renovation has taken place over the past three years, and the renovated space is slated to open in July. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

Currently, about a third of the museum’s vehicles are being displayed at the Courtland Center, an ancillary location for Sloan during its renovation, which began in December 2018. That location will be closing May 15, 2022 so as to bring them back to Sloan’s original space.

Gentry highlighted one of her favorite cars in the museum’s collection while guiding guests over to what will be the museum’s history gallery.

“One of our concept cars … it’s like the Jetson’s car for those who know what I’m talking about,” she began. “It actually has a backup camera on it.”

Gentry said she realized a backup camera might not seem incredible to a room full of modern drivers, but the car she was referring to, the museum’s Buick Centurion, was made in 1956. She said the car helped show visitors that innovation is part of Flint and Genesee County’s legacy.

Aside from more gallery space and new exhibits, the museum also features accessible design choices. From a quiet room for visitors who need space from over-stimulation to varied heights on work tables for wheelchair users, the renovation was focused on inclusivity on every level.

On March 7, 2022, Cathy Gentry, Sloan and Longway Planetarium’s Director of Business Operations, leads a tour through some of the renovations that have been underway at the Sloan Museum of Discovery since 2018, including new learning labs. The museum is slated to open in mid-July. (KT Kanazawich | Flint Beat)

“If you need the restroom, find a yellow wall,” Gentry said as she led the tour group back to the museum’s light-filled lobby area. (All bathrooms are on yellow walls so guests can navigate by color in addition to, or in lieu of, written signage.)

“With this renovation, we are embracing inclusion,” Gentry said.

Sloan Museum’s $30 million renovation has been funded without using the Genesee County Arts Education and Cultural Enrichment Millage funds, but the millage does mean general admission to the museum will be free for Genesee County residents when it opens on July 16th.

Kate is Flint Beat's associate editor. She joined the team as a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues....