Weigl and Alcorn McBride Partner on Exhibit and Facility Control for the ProMedica Museum of Natural History at the Toledo Zoo

The new ProMedica Museum of Natural History at the Toledo Zoo (Ohio) opened last May to the delight of everyone eagerly awaiting the completion of construction in the historic WPA-era building. With master design provided by Graphite Design and Build, the museum focuses on biodiversity in the region and features the popular “Nature in Hand” hands-on library of bones, pelts and taxidermy. It also offers an impressive Great Hall rental space for gatherings of up to 200 people. 

Located within the zoo, the museum is housed in a landmark building whose architecture has been preserved while bringing the latest in 21st century technology to guests touring the exhibits and staff maintaining facility operations. “For the past 30 years this building has not been fully utilized,” notes Jennifer Van Horn, Vice President of Construction and Planning for the Toledo Zoo. “After a $27 million renovation we now have 66,000-square-feet in displays and spaces.” 

Weigl Works, LLC and Alcorn McBride partnered to develop solutions for the tight integration of show control, animation, audio, video and lighting. This partnership came into play at the Museum where the two companies have joined forces to create seamless exhibit and facility control. 

Weigl custom configured eight touch panel interfaces placed throughout the museum for staff control of all elements ranging from facility-wide or individual exhibit start up and shut down to deployment of interactives, audio, video and lighting elements. Alcorn McBride’s V16Pro show controller and ShowTouch software provide master control for all devices in coordination with six Weigl ProCommander® show controllers managing each zone of the museum. 

“Alcorn and Weigl products blend environmental control with the interactive guest experience,” says Weigl President Mike Blasko. “All the technology is tied together and designed to be in the background.” 

For the permanent “Nature in Hand” exhibit, guests interact with artifacts via wireless cameras that enable them to catalog or “accession” artifacts by taking their pictures after receiving specific clues about what to look for. “Weigl and Graphite designed the cameras for this interactive scavenger hunt game,” says Van Horn. “So often everything you look at in an exhibit is behind glass. You get a much different experience handling a fossil than just looking at it. Here you get to interact with the artifacts, and when you take pictures you score points.” 

A large monitor provides clues to the types of artifacts they need to seek out. When a guest points and clicks their camera at the correct artifact, an infrared beam hits a glowing target. That in turn triggers a change in target and house lighting and a music cue. Guests continue to get clues and collect correct answers; a running score is tabulated by computer and a winner declared after five clues. Fifty clues are in rotation so guests can play new games and not repeat the experience. 

“The cameras get kids away from the touchscreens they’re used to and gives them a more immersive experience,” Blasko points out. “Immersive audio and lighting are two big keys to this museum. There are nearly 64 different channels of point-source audio, so you hear lions and tigers and bears as you walk through, and 6,000 different points of lighting control.” 

Custom environmental control was required for The Great Hall, a new two-story, multi- purpose presentation space. During the day images displayed on a projection screen are controlled via Alcorn McBride’s V16Pro. During off-hours The Great Hall may be rented for weddings, corporate and philanthropic events. Alcorn McBride and Weigl equipment team to automate lighting changes and customize color schemes for events. “The whole space can be tailored to a bride and groom’s colors, for example,” Blasko says. “Not many facilities can do that without having a full lighting staff. It’s a big selling point for the space.” 

“We’ve had fourteen weddings and 182 events this season, with sixteen wedding  booked prior to completing construction,” Van Horn reports. “The catering department can control sound, lighting and video with ease using presets on an iPad. It’s such a simple, user-friendly interface.” 

In fact, ease of use was “a driving factor” in choosing the V16Pro and ShowTouch for the new museum, Blasko notes. “There’s a lot of complexity behind our system but the V16Pro and ShowTouch are key to easy operation by the museum. Everything is one- touch automated. I don’t think the museum even expected it to be that simple. This project speaks strongly to the partnership of our two companies.”