back to top

Center in the Square Renovations Aim to Enhance Facility’s Mission

Center in the Square will feature innovative rooftop attractions.

When it originally opened in 1983, Center in the Square was intended to rescue downtown Roanoke from the exodus of businesses to suburban shopping centers and the deterioration of the area that resulted.  The idea of the Center as an educational facility wasn’t considered a prime focus by its original designers and planners.

That will change when the Center’s impending renovations begin.  Once completed, most likely in the late winter of 2013, the result, says the Center’s executive director Jim Sears, will be “a dynamic building where every square foot is usable and directed at education.  There are going to be exciting things in here to do.” Center in the Square  – home to history and science museums, and the planned future home for the Harrison Museum of African-American Culture – expects to wrap up its $27 million capital campaign by the end of the year; tax credits will also help fund the makeover.

Among the changes will be the addition of a green roof, which will raise the facility’s current number of stories of five by a story-and-a-half.  The new roof space will feature a restaurant accommodating about 150 seated diners and a thousand square foot butterfly habitat.  The latter, Sears explains, will allow visitors to “walk among the butterflies and other things that we put in here. You’ll be able to go onto the roof and look down into the butterfly habitat.”

Another new attraction will be a 5500-gallon salt water aquarium in the atrium—one that, in Sears’ words, will be “the largest live coral aquarium in the mid-Atlantic region.”  The advantages of a live coral aquarium, he explains, are that it “changes everyday  – it creates a water quality that will be very similar to the ocean, and will provide a healthier environment for fish.  So you have longer lasting fish, you don’t have as many sick fish, and it’s an ever-changing environment—whether its fish, coral, or some of the other sea creatures that we’re going to put into this aquarium.  It should be a great attraction for this region.”

In addition to the large aquarium, there will be three smaller ones to house jellyfish and sea horses.  “They’re interesting to talk about – they seem somewhat of a different science associated with those than the fish.  We think people like them,” said Sears. “When you go to other aquariums people seem to love the jelly fish, they love the sea horses. This is about education, but it’s also about giving people something that will bring them into this building more than once a year, that will attract them from Bristol, Grundy, Lynchburg or Harrisonburg. [People]  within an hour to hour-and-a-half driving distance of Roanoke.”

In between the atrium and the rooftop will be the museums and Mill Mountain Theatre – presently in the process of reorganization.

The renovation was prompted by several considerations:  deterioration of the building over the years due to age; the number of people who have visited Center in the Square; the fact that the facility didn’t meet city codes in certain areas and the need to improve the energy efficiency of the building’s systems.

“Most importantly,” said Sears, “was the need to create a modern, state-of-the-art facility to meet the educational needs of the children living in this part of Virginia.”

“If we want our children in western Virginia and central Virginia to be competitive with the children in [other] states and the rest of Virginia we have to prepare them well.  Our children shouldn’t suffer because we don’t have those amenities. So part of what this project’s all about is creating an environment where children can learn.  This whole renovation of Center is about economic development, education and quality of life.”

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Latest Articles

- Advertisement -Fox Radio CBS Sports Radio Advertisement

Related Articles