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Tybee Marine Science Center realizes dream

LAST WEEK the City of Tybee Island hosted a groundbreaking ceremony and reception for the new location of the Tybee Marine Science Center on North Beach.

Area restaurants donated appetizers and drinks for the community to celebrate the start of construction, made possible by a combination of a recreation bond through the Chatham County Commission, fundraising and a generous anonymous land donation. Construction is planned to begin right away, resulting in a closure for the northernmost beach crossover.

Turning the shovels during the event were Cathy Sakas, Chair of the Board for the Marine Science Center, Executive Director Maria Procopio, Mayor of Tybee Jason Buelterman, City Manager Shawn Gillen and all six council members.

Also participating were Matt West of West Construction, the contractor for the project and architect Craig Clements of Sotille & Sotille.

Cathy Sakas is excited for the project to begin: “This has been in our dreams for longer than 15 years. We are just ecstatic that the City of Tybee, the mayor, the city council members and city manager decided it was good for Tybee.”

The plan for the new location is unique. Designed for sustainability, the center makes use of natural light, passive ventilation and cooling from prevailing wind patterns.

Great care was taken by the architect to make the least impact on the natural dune system surrounding the area.

The roof has different grades — one portion is flat for an eventual vegetated green roof and the other is sloped to collect rainwater for reuse. A focal point is the outdoor theater, which provides unobstructed views of the dunes.

The structure will have around 6,000 square feet of covered space on the main level, but the center is strictly a stopping point before venturing out on the sand.

Cathy Sakas sees this as logical:

“The center will be the launching point to push people out to the beach. What more incredible classroom can you have than the beach and the Atlantic Ocean?”

As visitation for Tybee increased over the last few years, the need for a new building became apparent. Typical days during the summer had Girl Scout troops touring the center, classes being given and visitors coming through the door to check out the exhibits.

While the curious crowd was a great problem to have, the chance to spread out and use of the outdoors made better sense for their educational goals.

Nestled by the beach access near Fort Screven, the new center will be part of the North Beach Education and Cultural District. That area will also include the lighthouse complex, the Tybee Island Museum, the Shrine Club and the North Beach Grill.

Fundraising will continue for the effort to build the exhibits inside the main structure. For more information, representatives are available at the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, (912) 786-5917.