GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Public Museum is moving full steam ahead on its expansion project that aims to bring in more visitors and make the facility more accessible for all. 

Today, the Grand Rapids City Commission approved $50 million dollars of expansion funds. The expansion is a part of a 10-year community investment plan to transform the Grand River and downtown Grand Rapids. 

GRPM was assigned a specific role for “the GR Forward masterplan” and several projects that will be under way for the next three years. It’s the first major renovation of the 170-year-old museum since 1994. 

“We will be the interpretation and education center for everything connected to the river restoration and then broadening that into water systems,” said GRPM Museum President Dale Robertson.

Robertson is excited about what the expansion will provide the community.

“If you come to our building today, you’ll see it’s very steep banks with lots of vegetation. So, that will all go away,” said Robertson. 

The greenery blocking the Grand River will be renovated above ADA standards, which will allow 24-hour access every day of the year to the public.

“There will be systems of terraces and ramps so no matter what your mobility needs are you’ll be able to get to the river,” Robertson said.

It will also create hands-on access for deeper learning.

“We put artifacts and specimens in students’ hands, so it is a multi-sensory process here. We will be able to take water samples and you would be amazed at the critters that live in our water,” said Robertson. 

The west side entrance will also be expanded.

“With this new assembly area, public assembly and a new entrance, that is what will allow us to double the student capacity up to 60 to 70 thousand,” Robertson said.

The south side retaining wall will soon be a standout geologic rock wall.

“With actual stone, you’ll be able to touch it. There will be some labels, but it will also be supplemented with a QR code so if you want to take it in on your phone, you’ll be able to see more of the geology of the entire area,” said Robertson. 

The renovations don’t stop there. The expansion project will also make the carousel accessible from outdoors and the walkway roof will become accessible from the inside of the museum. Plans also include two additional elevators so visitors can easily explore all three floors. 

“The front lawn will be redone too. This is a green roof; the public will be able to gather here. There is an indoor and outdoor kitchen that will go here, but we are doing that in partnership with the culinary center at GRCC,” Robertson said. 

The outdoor kitchen will also be available to start up restaurants with a revolving menu.

“It’s a place that we hope the public just comes to. We’ll still have educational programming here, a history and culture pollinator garden, green roof here and the old café will become a science center,” Robertson said.

Upgrades will also be added to some of the main exhibits like the Native American habitat and old streets of Grand Rapids. 

The expansion project will link a 7.5-mile urban trail to regional trails, like the White Pine trail, Kent trail and Grand River Greenway. 

By 2026, GRPM will have a different outside and inside. The first phase of the project will start this fall.