Construction for the “New Witte Museum has passed the halfway point, museum and City officials said, thanks in part to a $4 million donation that will help build the museum’s first permanent dinosaur gallery.

Susan Moulton, a trustee of the Witte and president of the Will Smith Foundation who made the donation, spoke about the importance of the Witte to families everywhere during a press conference on Tuesday.

“If it weren’t for the dinosaurs, we wouldn’t be here. And so it is a euphoric feeling to honor our past with a gift that helps the Witte build its future,” Moulton said. “It’s about time that this girl got a facelift, and we’re going to have a world-class museum that we can be proud of.”

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Moulton credited Will Naylor Smith, her son who was killed in a car accident in 2007, with her passion for philanthropy and education. She hopes to preserve his memory through the museum’s expansion. “The Witte is in my blood,” she said before introducing a special hula ceremony in Will’s honor. Moulton is the largest benefactor of the Witte so far. She has given $7 million in her family’s name.

Witte President and CEO Marise McDermott, Councilman Ron Nirenberg (D8), Witte Board Chair Don Gonzales, and Witte Museum Capital Campaign Chair Peggy Walker attended the celebratory press conference.

Members of the media and dignitaries then toured the Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery, set to open in spring 2017 as part of the ongoing $100 million renovation and expansion project that is expected to enhance the cultural corridor often called the Broadway Reach.

(Read More: ‘New Witte Museum’ Opens its Arms to Broadway)

Thomas Adams, curator of paleontology and geology, led the hard-hat tour of the gallery that will eventually house large dinosaurs like the Quetzalcoatlus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the Acrocanthosaurus.

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“I designed the gallery to tell a Texas story,” Adams said of the future exhibits, which will trace the history of dinosaurs back to 110 million years. The Witte partnered with Government Canyon State Natural Area, which has uncovered nearly 300 dinosaur prints, to develop the gallery’s educational resources.

“We hope that people will take museum tours, see replicas of the dinosaur tracks and the educational information behind it and get excited about coming to Government Canyon and vice-versa,” said Government Canyon Ranger John Koepke. “People will be able to have museum and outdoor experiences.”

The gallery’s new Dino Lab will provide fossils for visitors to study and compare. Visitors can also excavate dinosaur bones, see 3-D animated dinosaurs and learn about the science behind the dinosaurs that once roamed throughout the state.

“They say ‘everything is bigger in Texas.’ Well, they were (bigger) in the Cretaceous period, that’s for sure,” Thomas quipped.

The Naylor Gallery will be one of four new galleries expected to open in spring 2017 along with the re-opening of the main building. Witte visitors can expect to see new, blockbuster educational exhibits like “Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed” when The Mays Family Center opens in May 2016.

Portions of the Witte Museum will remain open during the construction, including the H-E-B Body Adventure and the current exhibit, “Bodies Revealed.”

*Top Image: Museum members welcome the dinosaur representative from the new Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery at the Witte. Photo by Lea Thompson.

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Lea Thompson

Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.