Mountain View’s Computer History Museum Launches Learning Center Project to Engage Community

Mountain View, Computer History Museum, Bay Area, San José, MAI Construction, Babbage Engine, children’s learning center

By Meghan Hall

A new 3,000 square foot children’s learning center is in the works at Mountain View’s Computer History Museum, located at 1401 North Shoreline Boulevard. The project, which just started construction, will provide the museum with space to hold special teaching sessions and is part of the museum’s greater goal to create more community-oriented programming.

“The educational portion never had its own dedicated space to do different kinds of programs; they kind of used whatever space was available within the museum,” explained Gary Matsushita, the vice president of operations for the Computer History Museum. “About a quarter of our income comes from renting the venue out.”

Matsushita said that addition is part of the museum’s evolution from a primarily exhibit-based center to one that offers an array of classes, events and programs to the Mountain View and greater Bay Area community. According to Matsushita, there has been a shift in many museums away from centers that are purely exhibit-centric, and the Computer History Museum itself holds roughly 350 events of various sizes, ranging from conferences to holiday parties, a year.

“There has been a shift away from museums that are more exhibit-focused,” explained Matsushita. “You’re telling your history through artifacts, and then what most museums do is start educational programs.”

The Computer History Museum first opened in 1998, where the institution leased space at Moffett Field. The museum purchased its current site at Shoreline Blvd. in 2002. The 120,000 square foot building was originally used to house the world’s largest collection of computer artifacts.

Today, the museum is working with San José, Calif.-based general contractor MAI Construction to complete the project. This is not the first time the firms have worked together, since the museum has gone through a variety of renovations over the past decade. MAI was first hired to complete a renovation of the lobby into a Babbage Engine exhibit back in 2008.

“We want to deliver the best product possible,” said Kevin Niu, the project manager with MAI Construction overseeing the project. Niu said that MAI is excited to continue working with the Computer History Museum to create a welcoming and inviting space for guests of all ages.

The project is transforming a former storage area into an interactive space geared toward guests of all ages, from children through adults. The space will include a new learning laboratory space, hands on exhibit items, new glass sliding doors, magnetic marker boards and a variety of millwork. The walls will be built with plywood to allow the museum to hang future exhibits from the walls of the space, as well. An immersive gallery, egress doors and research office are also all part of the plans for the renovation.

Colorful carpet with reds, yellows and black in a geometric pattern decorate the floor.

MAI and the museum are working closely together to make sure that the space, although large, also feels intimate. When completely open, the four-tier auditorium style seating can accommodate up to 125 people. However, the space can be sectioned off into more intimate classroom spaces that can fit smaller groups of 15 to 20 people. The original height of the education center’s ceiling was 17 feet, so the project team installed a special dropped ceiling to make the space more inviting. The suspended ceiling also partially acoustic to keep echoing and noise in the space to a minimum.

According to Niu, installing the ceiling had its challenges. “We knew were installing a free form ceiling product,” said Niu. “This ceiling hasn’t been installed anywhere in this large of an application. It’s a new product. We were figuring it out, too.”

Matsushita said the ultimate goal of the space is not just to serve nearby residents but also to host programs that will resonate with other like-minded groups around the globe. The project team is installing a large screen and advanced audio and visual equipment to allow them to project conferences and events to broader audiences around the globe in the future. Videoconferencing capabilities will be installed in the space to make this possible.

“What we’ve evolved towards is a museum in a regular sense is just part of what we do,” said Matsushita. “Now we see ourselves as a community center. We want other groups to use our education center to promote their own programs, which will have far greater impact and value.”

Matsushita estimates that the project will cost between $2.5 to $2.7 million in just physical hard costs, and that the new space will be open to the public mid-January of 2019. However, buildout is slated to wrap up at the end of November after several months of construction.

Museum officials are looking forward to the education center’s completion, which is slated for January 2019. According to Matsushita, the museum will have a grand opening to celebrate the new space and introduce the learning center to educators, technology professionals and the Mountain View community.

“We are trying to promote it as a community resource we’ve created,” said Matsushita.