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February 27, 2011
Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin
Sunday, February 27, 2011

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

The Virginia Museum of Natural History will lower its admission rates from Memorial Day through Labor Day to try and increase visitation.

The temporary rates were unanimously approved by the museum's board of trustees on Saturday.

If attendance goes up, the lower fees could be made permanent, according to museum officials.

Current admission rates are $9 for adults; $7 for college students, senior citizens and active duty military personnel; and $5 for youth 3 to 18 years of age.

The temporary rates will be $5 for adults; $4 for college students, senior citizens and military personnel; and $3 for youth 3 to 12 years of age. Those between 13 and 18 would pay the adult price, said Executive Director Joe Keiper.

Children under 3 years of age will continue to be admitted for free.

Visitors have told museum staff they think that for the number of exhibits at the facility, $9 is "a little steep" for admission, Keiper said.

Getting money from more people should compensate for the lower fees, he said. But admissions revenue accounts for only about 11❄2 percent of the museum's budget, he said.

The less visitors spend to get into the museum, the more they are likely to spend in the cafe and gift shop, said trustee Mervyn King of Martinsville.

Attendance was 31,383 in 2006-07; 43,905 in fiscal 2007-08, its first full year in its new building; 31,910 in 2008-09; 33,279 in 2009-10; and 15,900 through January of this fiscal year, according to VMNH data.

Also Saturday, the trustee board unanimously approved naming Dr. Noel Boaz, the museum's founder, as a senior fellow to the museum.

Senior fellows basically have privileges to visit the museum and collaborate with its scientists whenever they want, Keiper said, noting that Boaz always has been welcome there.

In Boaz's case, Keiper said, the honor is intended as "a sign of respect for all the work he's done" to advance the field of natural sciences.

Along with being the museum's founder, Boaz has done extensive research pertaining to fossils, said Dr. J. James Murray Jr. of Charlottesville, chairman of the trustee board's research and collections committee.

"His research has been first class," Keiper said of Boaz, who is in Libya on a fossil dig.

Because of the political unrest there, museum officials asked that people keep Boaz in their thoughts and prayers.

The museum now has six scientists as senior fellows.

The trustee board also received its proposed slate of officers for the fiscal year that will start in July.

Proposed by a nominating committee are Sammy Redd of Martinsville, chairman; Missy Neff Gould of Richmond, vice chairman; Jim Severt II of Washington, secretary; and Christina Draper of Richmond, treasurer. The board will vote on the slate at its May meeting.

Board Chairman Novel Martin of Roanoke did not seek reappointment as chairman.

"I'm juggling a few too many balls right now" with youth athletic coaching, church activities and other civic responsibilities, he said.

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