CHRISTIANSBURG — Part of the New River Valley Mall was abuzz with excitement Thursday morning as children tinkered in a workshop, made colorful art with shaving cream and played veterinarian with a collection of stuffed animals.
Those were among new activities at Wonder Universe: A Children’s Museum, the rebranded and relocated former Children’s Museum of Blacksburg , which celebrated its grand opening Thursday.
“It’s really exciting to see this many kids,” said the museum’s executive director, Sarah Nucci, who greeted families at the entrance. “It’s just really exciting to see the museum come to life.”
The museum’s new home — in the spot previously occupied by a Charlotte Russe store — is approximately 15,000 square feet, triple its former space inside Blacksburg’s First & Main shopping center.
The museum provides another tenant to a mall that, like others across the country, has experienced increasing vacancies. Town officials believe the museum can also help spur business growth in that part of Christiansburg.
“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity … You got people from Radford, Floyd, Elliston and Christiansburg that can get there without going through all the traffic that often occurs in Blacksburg,” Christiansburg Mayor Mike Barber said. “Anything that will be that popular is going to help out.”
Marie Castillo, who serves on the museum’s board of directors, echoed Barber’s comment. “Being here allows us to be more centrally located,” she said.
Museum officials have said that the new home and name will better reflect the venue’s mission to serve the New River Valley.
The museum is known for its hands-on exhibits geared toward enhancement of early childhood development.
While there is no official age limit for the museum’s activities, Castillo said the exhibits are generally for children who are between toddler and about 10 years old.
The exhibits aim to assist parents with physical and educational activities to benefit their children’s early development, Castillo said. The exhibits also include activities that parents lack space to conducted at home , she said.
While the exhibits are intended to be fun, many have an educational element.
One example is a workshop where children can handle small tools. That exhibit, called the Build It Toolbox, also features some wood pieces that can be connected with bolts.
The Build It Toolbox can nurture an early interest in building trades or engineering, Castillo said.
Another exhibit, Amazing Air Play, features a network of clear tubes that can vacuum up and eject inserted clothes.
Placed around the tubes are small square signs about the body’s digestive and circulatory systems.
Altogether, the museum has 13 current and upcoming exhibits, according to its website.
Fire Station, featuring lockers containing firefighter gear and a real fire hydrant, was open Thursday but still being assembled.
It will have the front half of a real fire truck that the children can enter and examine within.
Parents on Thursday were impressed with the museum’s new Christiansburg home.
“I think it’s really nice and it’s a terrific start,” said Mandy Swope, a Blacksburg mother who came with her three-year-old daughter. “I think they have a lot of things planned over the next six months to a year that I think will be really great. We’re excited.”
Leigh Hill, who lives in Giles County, echoed Swope’s comments.
“It’s huge. It’s great to have a space like this,” Hill said. “I can’t provide this level of imagination, imaginative play at home. We do a lot, but I can’t do this level of it.”