The Kentucky Science Center will hold in-person summer camps for kids starting June 15 with a plan to keep campers in groups of 10 and scale back some of its “high-touch” identity.

The state recently released guidance for child care facilities in Kentucky to reopen next month. During one of his regular briefings last week, Gov. Andy Beshear said if summer camps can commit to these same requirements, then they can resume in-person activity as well.

“Mainly that’s going to be a capacity level of any individual class or group how small it can be, and it can’t come into contact with other groups,” he said.

The “School’s Out Science Camps” will be the first phase of the Kentucky Science Center’s reopening plan. And even though a number of the state’s cultural attractions can reopen to the general public starting June 8, the science center will hold off so it can utilize the entire building for its camps — the center has about 50,000 square feet of exhibition space in addition to classrooms. 

“It’s a lot easier for us to know exactly where the kids are and who they’re interacting with,” Ben Goldenberg, the center’s senior manager of marketing and communications, said. “We want to make sure we understand how that process works first.”

Camp classes will have no more than 10 children and the groups will be spread out throughout the building to avoid contact between each one, which are also safety measures mandated in the state guidance

Kentucky Science Center chief executive officer Mike Norman said the biggest challenge to reopening is that the center is “hands-on, high-touch.”

“That is our culture and who we are,” he said. “We’re not going to get away from that.”

Norman said, the past few months, he and his staff have been discussing ways to reduce the risk that such a hands-on environment creates in the middle of a pandemic without entirely losing the hands-on aspect. 

“We have to balance the public’s health against experience of who we are and what we offer, and work through all of that to make sure that we can meet all the requirements of [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and the governor’s office,” Norman said.

“The science is still there, just with a little more space between the bowls of slime,” Michele Mazzei, the science center’s manager of camp experience, wrote in an email blast. “We are exploring new ways to communicate with and include our campers in the conversation.”

Social Distancing Kids

Putting 10 or so kids in the same room, especially after months of social deprivation, presents another large challenge for the center. But Ben Goldenberg said they’ve designed camp projects and programming to incorporate social distancing practices. 

“Our classrooms are big,” Goldenberg said, pointing to one way they hope to physically distance campers.

Each camp group will have its own classroom, and they’re developing a plan for how groups will rotate in and out of exhibition space, which will get disinfected after every use, Goldenberg said.  

Even so, it’s going to be difficult to keep safe distances between each child within the camp classes. That’s why it’s so important for kids to stay with their designated group, he said. If a family is exposed to the virus, they can easily identify what other families might have been exposed as well and put contact tracing efforts into effect.  

Goldenberg said staff has also removed or modified exhibits that are particularly high-touch and difficult to clean, such as the “Noodle Forest,” a web of pool noodles that kids snake through. 

“A lot of the things are very tactile,” he said. “We removed significant chunks [of the ‘Noodle Forest’] so there’s less interaction between the noodles.” 

Drop-off and pick-up procedures will also have to change, another requirement of the state.

Goldenberg said, typically, parents come in for a camp orientation, where they hand out T-shirts for the campers. None of that will happen this year. Instead, Kentucky Science Center staff will meet families outside at their vehicles. 

All Kentucky Science Center staff, including camp counselors and educators, will wear masks.

The state guidance requires children older than 5 to wear masks as well. The center is weighing whether it will also extend that requirement to 5-year-olds, the youngest of its campers. 

‘Next Normal’

There are still a lot of questions about what the “next normal,” as Mike Norman calls it, will look like for the Kentucky Science Center.

The center, which they hope to reopen to the public sometime this summer, will have signage and visual cues to remind people of the new safety measures. 

“It’s the Science Center, so it’s going to be fun. It’s not going to be lecture-y… and the ways that kids can understand it too,” Norman said. 

There could be temperature checks for visitors, he said. They’re working out traffic patterns to keep people flowing through the building “and balance family units with non-family units.”

“We encourage kids and families to collaborate, and that’s one of the skills that you learn coming to the science center,” Norma said. “And if you said, ‘Well, you got to stay within your family unit, we’re losing a little bit of that culture.”

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts Reporter.