Connecticut Science Center Readies For Opening In A Few Weeks
JEFFREY B. COHEN
May 26, 2009
Alicia Kennedy, her son, and more than 90 of his fifth-grade classmates and teachers at Fairfield's Burr Elementary School have a June 16 date to keep.
That's the day that they, along with students from six other schools from Windsor, Simsbury, Bridgeport and Stratford, are booked to visit the as-yet unopened Connecticut Science Center.
Which is to say that, one way or the other, the center in Hartford will be open by June 16.
"We'll be open by then," said Matt Fleury, the center's president. "But it could be sooner."It's a mad rush to finish the building with the sweeping roof, as exhibits — built elsewhere, assembled here — are taking shape, but aren't yet entirely assembled. By the center's pre-opening party on May 30, much will still be unfinished; but when the center eventually opens, 95 percent or so of the exhibits will be complete.
"They've got a lot of work to do," Fleury said.
This week was a busy one. Workers were silk-screening the names of donors to glass walls near the center's ticket area. Others were setting up the "Speed" traveling exhibit from the Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio.
And the gift store started stocking last week, with things like books on Connecticut and one of Fleury's favorite items — the Airzooka, a plastic cone that shoots a "harmless ball of air" wherever it's pointed.
Although it will be a challenge to get everything ready for a June 16th opening, at least the funding is in place to make it happen.
The same, though, can't be said for what comes next.
The $162 million center needs about $8.3 million a year to operate. Of that, 60 percent is expected to come from earned revenue such as tickets and merchandise — it costs the center $23 for each visitor, and the average ticket price is about $15. Of the remainder, 25 percent of the operating budget would come from donations, and 15 percent — or $1.2 million — was to come in the form of a subsidy from the state.
But the entirety of that funding looks uncertain now. According to Fleury, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's budget calls for just $237,500; the Democrats' budget calls for $475,000.
The center might raise ticket prices, but that could be self-defeating.
On the expense side, the center has trimmed 8 percent of its personnel costs, Fleury said.
But now it's on to raising as much money as possible, bringing in as many visitors as possible, selling as many Airzookas as possible, and hoping that the state will give the center as much money as it can.
In the meantime, the opening awaits. Fleury says he'll announce the official opening day at the May 30 pre-opening party. More than two dozen school groups are scheduled for the week of June 16. None are from Hartford — they were to come in early June but had to be rescheduled because of the school calendar and the center's opening date.
But Kennedy says her son and his classmates are ready.
"The kids watch the Web cam, they're online checking out when the museum's going to be ready," Kennedy said. "It's built up a lot of excitement."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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