Modesto’s Great Valley Museum fully, officially open at last

Aruna Rao looks through the Dobsonian telescope as her daughter Gargi, 11, looks on at right.
Aruna Rao looks through the Dobsonian telescope as her daughter Gargi, 11, looks on at right.

The Great Valley Museum will open for good Saturday, offering planetarium shows and live animal exhibits from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and special hours and programs for local schools’ spring break.

Saturday, there will be three planetarium shows: “Earth, Moon and Sun” at 10 a.m., “Ultimate Universe” at 11:30 a.m. and “Tour of the Galaxy” at 1 p.m. Tickets to the planetarium shows are $6 each, or $20 for a family, available at the GVM Nature Shop. Children must be at least 4 years old to attend planetarium shows.

Special one-hour science programs at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will be held through the week, open to all but targeted for first- through fifth-grade students. Cost is $20 per child, which includes museum admission for the child and one adult for the day. Program themes are:

▪ Tuesday: “Excellent Eggs”

▪ Wednesday: “Fabulous Flowers”

▪ Thursday: “Insect Investigation”

The museum’s dioramas and wildlife exhibits fill most of the ground floor of the Science Community Center on the Modesto Junior College West Campus. It also features a giant hanging Science on a Sphere, a Foucault pendulum knocking chalk pegs down around the clock, an interactive periodic table and a DNA sculpture several stories high rising through the stairwell.

Take note of the arcing fountain outside and nearby benches that pay tribute to icons of the sciences.

The museum is the crowning touch on the $70 million science center, the showpiece of Measure E building projects. The 2004, $326 million bond has made over the Yosemite Community College District campuses in Modesto and Columbia, but the district’s huge footprint eases the pinch on property owners. The owner of a $100,000 home pays about $25 a year on the debt, including $5.29 for the science center.

“Our community has waited very patiently for the chance to visit, and the time has now arrived,” said Dean Brian Sanders, head of the science, engineering and math departments. The museum already is booked solid with school tours through the end of the school year, Sanders said via email Friday.

“We look forward to welcoming our community starting tomorrow and continuing through spring break, then Fridays and Saturdays thereafter,” he said Friday.

The Great Valley quarters’ original opening date was fall 2012. A number of problems stretched out construction, the most serious being an upgrade in the seismic bracing to take it from museum standards to those required for schools. Finding money for staffing of the larger facility also held up opening with regular hours, Sanders said.

Then there were the moving pains, in which a number of museum exhibits got a much-needed re-“fur”-bishing or refeathering. The new facility offers more than triple the space of the old museum at Stoddard and College avenues. The cobbled-together complex started out as a 1930s campus bookstore, a garage and a double-wide trailer.

Still to come is a display of native plant species of the Sierra Nevada, foothills and Valley, planned for a space to the rear of the science center, waiting on money, staffing and some growing time.

For more information and reservations for the special programs, call (209) 575-6196. For more on the museum, go to For more on local science activities, go to

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.


There will be special programs during spring break, Tuesday through Friday. Regular schedule for the rest of the school year will be:

HOURS: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Other days are reserved for school tours. Fridays will alternate “Backyard Bookworms” and “Animal Shows” at 10 a.m. Planetarium shows will be at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

COST: Museum entry is $5 per person or $15 per family, with price breaks for those over 55 and under 12, and free for MJC students. Parking is $2 on campus, but free Saturdays and after 5 p.m. Fridays. Planetarium shows are $6 per person or $20 per family, with discounts; children under 4 are not allowed into planetarium shows.

LOCATION: Lobby of the Science Community Center on the Modesto Junior College West Campus, 2201 Blue Gum Ave.