NEWPORT - After closing nearly two years ago for renovation, the public exhibit area of Oregon State University's Mark O. Hatfield Marine Science Center will reopen with limited, temporary displays on Saturday, Feb. 1.

Winter hours will be 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. The center is next to the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Interim exhibits include a temporary touch tank, an erosion table, films, a crab research area, microscopic displays, and marine "biofact" stations, said Terri Nogler of the center's OSU Extension Sea Grant program.

"The bookstore will be open and we'll have oyster races," she added. The oyster "tracks" are tanks of oysters and plankton. "Since oysters don't run, the winner will be determined by which tank is cleared first of plankton." The center's new, permanent exhibits will begin to arrive the third week of February, she said. Tentative plans call for the renovation to be completed and a grand opening ceremony on May 17.

Age was the factor leading to the renovation, which started in 1995 with a $5 million grant from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The OSU center's public wing first opened in 1965 with 10,000 square feet of exhibit space. The wing is being enlarged to 15,000 square feet and dated displays are gone to make way for exhibits that focus on the exhibition's theme, "Search for Patterns in a Complex World."

Plans for the permanent exhibit include a main gallery where visitors progress through four zones, each examining the marine world at different scales. The Global Scale zone features exhibits on marine mammals, the geology of ocean floor and the dynamics of the open ocean. The Bird's Eye area will compare dry land forests to the kelp forest of the ocean. Visitors will also learn about coastal hazards and what's happening on the beach.

There will be aquaria in each of the zones with animals and plants and interactive exhibits, including some computer games.

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Lavern Weber, 541-867-0211