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Science Center celebrates 25th birthday

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, July 20, 2010 - On Tuesday, the Science Center got a mighty big birthday present -- a $9.5 million exhibition hall.

President and CEO Doug King announced the construction of the new exhibit space at the Science Center's 25th anniversary luncheon Tuesday afternoon.

The $9.5 million project will give the museum 12,000 square feet of permanent exhibit space and will make the center more appealing to blockbuster exhibits, King said. The addition will open next summer and replace the exploradome, a structure built in 1997 with a 10-year lifespan.

"We've always planned to replace it with a permanent exhibition space," King said.

King hopes the new area will make the museum more attractive to a wide variety of visitors. Currently, he said, it appeals mostly to children, but he would like the center to have something everybody can enjoy. To do that, the center plans to update its exhibits and build platforms that allow exhibits to change more quickly.

Besides the new hall, King emphasized the center's ongoing commitment to community science education. King fears that the public's science literacy may decline in the future because only 4 percent of college students are majoring in science, math or engineering.

"To be a successful and effective citizen in the 21st century, every St. Louisan will need a basic understanding of science and technology and a resource to continue learning as the world changes," King said. "We must unite and sustain lifelong science education."

While the new exhibit hall and upgrades may be the most noticeable changes at the Science Center, reinforcement of its educational programs may ultimately have the most impact. According to King, 350,000 people participate in the museum's educational programs every year.

"This is a major thrust at the Science Center," King said. "This is the area that I find least known about us."

Founded in 1995, the museum's educational activities have relied on local and national donations. With the programs growing, "it's a little precarious to depend on future donations to fund an ongoing program," King said.

The center plans to institutionalize its programs in the Institute for Science Learning. The institute already has a national board and hopes to have its own faculty soon.

"Establishing continuity in St. Louis and teaching people around the country will be a great challenge and a great reward to our community and future," King said.

The new exhibition hall and improved educational programs are two parts of what King describes as three-part plan for the future. The third element, King hopes, is that the Science Center will be an oasis for the science and technology community.

"We need to be the focal point, that go-to place," King said. "We will be the visitor center for science and technology in St. Louis."

King calls that idea the Center for Science. Although it started as a play on words, the idea has come to life as the museum has hosted several national and international events, such as SciFest. According to King, the plan will draw many visitors to St. Louis and attract different local and national donors.

"This needs to be one of the communities that people think of as a focal point of science and technology," King said.

To become this Midwest science and technology oasis, King said that it will take a village to fund the project and make it extraordinary.

"We'll need the continued leadership we've had to do this," he said. "To accomplish it, we will need all of you."

Patrick Sullivan, a student at the University of Kentucky, is an intern at the Beacon. 

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