The 1930s former post office building that houses SciTech Hands-on Museum in Aurora may be the only old thing left about the museum.
Since Executive Director Carol Rehtmeyer took over last November, plenty of renovations have been going on, all with the goal of heightening the museum's high-tech atmosphere, she said.
Staff revamped the gift shop. A coffee shop with wireless Internet access is on site. The downstairs cafeteria is getting a facelift. And a large outdoor deck overlooking the Fox River will host visitors and special events this summer.
"We're trying to up the presentation level of the whole museum," Rehtmeyer said. "Our goal is to take the museum to a more technological look and feel."
The facility also will be increasing its educational efforts with a preschool focused on science, technology, engineering and mathematics likely to open this fall.
"I'm putting together our very own curriculum," preschool Director Cheryl Newman said.
The preschool will teach kids ages 3 to 5 in a full-day program. SciTech plans to enroll 20 children in the first class, aiming for a five-to-one ratio of teachers to students, Newman said. And the school will take advantage of the experts employed by SciTech, such as a paleontologist and a bee researcher.
"The resources here are absolutely incredible," Newman said. "All of the resources that anyone would have who comes to SciTech on a field trip will be available every day."
Rehtmeyer said the preschool still needs some permits for construction and a license from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services. But the museum is creating a waiting list, and interested parents may call (630) 859-3434, ext. 218, to put their child on the list.
When the preschool opens, Rehtmeyer said it will be one of the first with an emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
"Science is an area that's neglected all the way through elementary school, even in junior high," Rehtmeyer said.
But science is front and center at the downtown Aurora museum, 18 W. Benton St. -- even in the museum's outdoor park, a large, semicircular deck with a broad view of the Fox River, that is reopening this summer.
"We've opened some areas that have been closed for several years," Rehtmeyer said. "It's all science back here, but in a playful way."
The space has interactive play equipment, such as a tightrope bike, a "mystery swing" and a "you-yo" that bounces riders up and down like the ball on a yo-yo.
Kids can play on the you-yo while taking a break from the classroom portion of a SciTech field trip, or from one of the museum's seven summer camps. Camp offerings have been popular in the past and are slightly expanded this year, Rehtmeyer said.
Parents can sign up children ages 6 to 14 for camps including Kitchen Chemistry, BugsaPalooza, Totally Ballistic and Jurassic Journey. Camps begin June 20 and run weekly until Aug. 12.
Special events also are on the rise at SciTech. This spring, the museum hosted its first Easter egg hunt -- a big hit with about 400 attendees, Rehtmeyer said.
The museum also had an "Easter egg drop" and allowed kids to "engineer" something to protect an egg from cracking when dropped a couple stories. Some kids made parachutes for their eggs, others coated them in Bubble Wrap, and the fun of the event was in seeing which eggs survived the fall and which cracked.
Another change Rehtmeyer is proud of relates to the museum's finances. Since taking over, she has been able to make significant budget cuts. She said the museum now is debt free and working to become fully self-sufficient, partially by hosting unique fundraisers.
"We want to offer fundraising opportunities that are wonderful experiences for families," she said.
And in Rehtmeyer's eyes, that all begins with making the museum's appearance reflect the scientific and educational experiences inside.