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Massive State Museum renovation includes observatory, planetarium and 4-D theater

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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) -

It's common to find history in a museum, but the South Carolina State Museum is making history.

The facility is in the midst of a $23 million renovation project called "Windows to New World," and when it is finished it will be the only facility of its kind in the country.

"We will be the only attraction in the nation that has an observatory, a planetarium and a 4-D theater under one roof," said Merritt McHaffie, the museum's marketing director.

Work is underway to complete all three, and crews are currently laying the foundation for the 55-foot digital planetarium dome.

"If you can imagine, if you look all the way up…that's all going to be an entire glass wall," said McHaffie, who took WIS on a tour of the construction.

The planetarium will be located on the east side of the current museum building and will be encased by glass on all sides. It will connect to the first and second floors of the old mill museum building where things will also look very different.

"One thing that's significant about this entire downstairs is right now if you want to come to the museum, any type of experience you want, you have to pay a ticket for. Now when we open up this new lobby and this mezzanine, this will be an open place for the public," said McHaffie.

McHaffie says there will also be several artifacts on display in the public area on the first floor. The Cotton Mill Exchange gift shop will also be open to the public and is getting an upgrade. "The original store was about 2,100 square feet, it's going to be 3,000 square feet now," added McHaffie.

The front entrance to the museum will also look dramatically different. A glass entrance will encase three telescope legs that stretch three stories high and lead to the museum's new observatory on the fourth floor.

Inside the observatory there will be another first-of-its-kind feature, an interactive telescope that takes learning to new heights. "Every teacher in the state of South Carolina will be able to log on and actually control this telescope, capture images from the night sky or some solar gazing and daytime opportunities," said McHaffie.

On that same floor, the oldest collection of North American telescopes in the world will be on display. They telescopes were a donation to the museum.

Back down on the second floor, the museum's movie theater is getting a huge makeover. Guests will not just see movies, they'll feel them.

"We'll have snow, hail, wind, water in your face from the back of the seat, ankle ticklers, the seats themselves will shake and vibrate," said McHaffie noting that it will be the only permanent 4-D theater in the state.

Museum officials say the additions will blend education and entertainment, and they're hoping the more than 70-thousand square feet of renovations open up new opportunities at the museum and beyond.

"This really is a game-changer for Columbia, and this helps put us on the map as more of a tourist destination in partnership with the other attractions in town," said McHaffie.

The project is expected to be complete by late spring of 2014. Despite the renovations, many parts of the museum remain open to the public.

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