FARMINGTON — The inside of Farmington Museum's empty exhibit wing is like an airplane hangar, said the museum's director Bart Wilsey, his voice echoing as he walked under its vaulted ceiling on Thursday.

"So yeah, it is pretty immense," he said. "I don't think Farmington has realized that yet."

The museum will host a ribbon cutting for the new wing at 3 p.m. on Feb. 26. Construction on the 7,500-square-foot wing and a 2,500-square-foot collection storage space began in May.

The museum plans to use the space to host an energy exhibit that tells the story of San Juan Basin's energy boom, ranging from dinosaurs to drill bits.

"I really want it to come full circle," Wilsey said.

Farmington Museum Director Bart Wilsey talks about the museum’s new wing expansion on Thursday at the museum. Construction of the 7,500-square-foot
Farmington Museum Director Bart Wilsey talks about the museum's new wing expansion on Thursday at the museum. Construction of the 7,500-square-foot wing and a 2,500-square-foot collection storage space began in May. (Jon Austria — The Daily Times)

Eventually — the date is undetermined — soaring pterodactyls will cover the walls of the new hall and canvases will show prehistoric sea creatures, Wilsey said. Farther into the room, through a maze of exhibits, visitors will walk through the history of geology, drilling, surface mining and oil and gas refining in the San Juan Basin.

The expansion cost $2.3 million, and the city generated the funds by refinancing bonds as part of a $9 million bonding project, Administrative Services Director Andy Mason said. The bonds would have matured in 2019, but the city extended payments to 2024, he said. The bonds' annual payments remain the same, he said.

The museum has raised $1 million for the energy exhibit, Wilsey said, but another $1 million is needed to reach its funding goal. He said staff can complete the exhibit with current funds, but it wouldn't be as "glitzy or interactive."

So far, energy companies have donated the majority of the money for the exhibit.

T. Greg Merrion, president of Merrion Oil and Gas, donated $100,000 for the exhibit and expressed a desire for "a world-class exhibit on energy," Wilsey said.

Farmington Museum Director Bart Wilsey talks about the museum’s new wing expansion on Thursday at the museum.
Farmington Museum Director Bart Wilsey talks about the museum's new wing expansion on Thursday at the museum. (Jon Austria / The Daily Times)

Farmington resident Roger Drayer said the energy exhibit will be good for Four Corners' residents. He said they will see the oil and gas industry's history and origin.

"I think one of the challenges is to present the history of the area, not only San Juan County, but the Four Corners," he said.

With enough funds, Wilsey hopes to install a truck mounted before a projector that visitors can buckle into and tour a coal mine as their seats bounce. And at the end of the wing, he hopes to build a glass tube that visitors can walk into and view the mining and drilling equipment outside the museum. Maybe, he said, there will even be a wind turbine blade.

He calls it "edu-tainment."

"Energy is such a hot-button topic, and there's really passionate voices on both sides of it," he said.

But the museum's goal is to present the history, geology and technology factually and objectively, he said. A museum is iWn the "eye of the public trust," he said.

"You come into a museum and it's almost like a classroom," he said, looking down the vast wing.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and dschwartz@daily-times.com. Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.