Tybee Island Marine Science Center Breaks Ground

This week’s groundbreaking and the official start of construction for the Tybee Island Marine Science Center (TIMSC) represent several milestones for the City of Tybee Island, its residents, neighbors, and the many visitors who annually visit the center. On February 20th, more than 200 people, including City of Tybee officials and residents as well as county and state representatives, coastal enthusiasts, business leaders, and TIMSC supporters came together to celebrate the start of the center’s next big phase.

“We are excited that after more than 10 years of dreaming and planning that the center will have a new facility to call home,” Cathy Sakas, president, Tybee Island Marine Science Foundation, said at the groundbreaking ceremony. “This project would not have been possible without the support of our Mayor and City Council, who knew that a new facility was desperately needed and have done so much to help us be here today. In addition, we are grateful for the land that the W.C. Fleetwood Family donated for the new center, the funds provided by the Chatham County Commissioners supporting a recreational bond, the amazing vision and design provided by our persevering architects at Sottile & Sottile, Tybee residents’ gracious support, and our county’s voters who approved the 2003 SPLOST that is providing $250,000 toward this construction project.”

Sakas noted that the City of Tybee has been a long-standing supporter of TIMSC. “In 1988, the City loaned us the old police station, which gave us a beach home and enabled us to grow our programs over the last several decades. Last year, we had 57,000 visitors participate in our programs. Each year, Tybee provides access to the beach and our Great Atlantic Ocean for an estimated one million visitors from all over the country, and beyond.

“Our new, larger and more attractive facility will enable us to reach many more visitors with information about our coast and how to take care of it while they’re still here,” Sakas added. The TIMSC is preparing to launch a capital campaign to raise funds for the new center’s exhibits. “We need community support through donations for as little as $100 per plank to larger gifts for naming rights to areas of the new center,” she explained.

Mayor Buelterman noted that “The new facility will have some exciting features that will enable visitors to learn more about marine life and their habitat. The building currently occupied by the TIMSC was not built for that purpose. This new building will be built specifically for an interactive science center. It will help attract families to Tybee, educate them about being good stewards of the environment, and most importantly provide residents and local students with a wonderful resource. We appreciate the cooperation of the County Recreation Authority in funding this center. Also, we will experience a net increase in 30 parking spaces to ensure sufficient parking for beach-goers and the new TIMSC.”

Sottile & Sottile, an architecture firm based in Savannah, began working on the new center’s designs about seven years ago and Kern & Company has provided engineering services. Community input has been invited along the way, most notably during a community design session.

According to Sottile & Sottile’s Craig Clements, “As a firm, it is always our goal to create civic architecture in a public and collaborative setting. During the public design session we held on this site over six years ago, residents and leaders of Tybee Island came together to create a shared vision for the future of the Science Center, and we could not be more excited to finally have the privilege of making that community vision a reality.”

Clements explained that the new facility will be an elevated structure rendered in rustic site-cast concrete, naturally weathered wood, and standing seam metal roofing. “It is important to note that the Science Center will be situated to have minimal impact on the dunes and to catch prevailing winds for passive cooling and ventilation. The building’s 5,400 square foot main floor will include interpretive exhibits in two distinct galleries, a retail shop, educational programming, and an amphitheater, while the ground level will house Shark School and animal rescue activities. An Open Air Gallery will feature numerous outdoor exhibits and a dune habitat trail,” he added.

Construction should be complete sometime next year. “The new Tybee Island Marine Science Center is a significant addition to the architectural landscape of Tybee Island and a wonderful tool to further the Marine Science Center Foundation’s mission of stewardship and education,” said West Construction Company President Matt West. “We appreciate the City of Tybee Island entrusting our team with this important addition to the community.”

“This project has truly been a labor of love for a long time and I’m so happy that our coastal community has believed in the vision and been patient,” Maria Procopio, TIMSC’s executive director said.  “The new TIMSC will prove to be worth the wait! Tybee acts as the gateway to the Atlantic for hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. This expanded facility will enable the science center to capture more of those visitors to educate and cultivate responsible stewardship.”

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