In true Science Central fashion, Fort Wayne officials donned rubber chemistry gloves and protective eyewear to celebrate the groundbreaking of a new, permanent exhibit.
Officials including Mayor Tom Henry and Science Central Executive Director Martin Fisher filled mugs of liquid nitrogen and threw it on a raised concrete platform in the space that will house the exhibit.
Science On a Sphere will be the first major exhibition added to the science museum since its opening in 1995 and will be located in a previously unused part of the building.
Demolition, construction and installation will take about two months, with an expected opening date in late summer.
The project is possible thanks to a more-than-$1.5 million fundraising campaign. The AEP Foundation made a $500,000 contribution, and the theater housing the exhibit will bear its name. AEP is the parent company of Indiana Michigan Power.
I&M President and Chief Operating Officer Paul Chodak said the company is excited about the opportunity to partner on a project that will help foster learning and enthusiasm for science, technology, engineering and math fields. The company has a long history of supporting Fort Wayne, he said.
This building is as emblematic of that as anything, Chodak said.
Science Central occupies the former City Light and Power Plant, which closed in 1975. The Science On a Sphere exhibit will be located in an unused 35,000-square-foot space in the former power plant. The exhibit is expected to occupy about 3,000 square feet.
Fisher said it was fitting to have the groundbreaking ceremony Monday – Earth Day – because the feature element of Science On a Sphere is a 6- foot globe that will be suspended from the ceiling in the gallery.
High-definition and high-resolution images will be projected onto the globe, allowing visitors to view weather in real time, planets, moons, geological patterns and other images.
The sphere project is the creation of the the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and will be the first in Indiana, one of three in the Midwest and among 80 around the world.
What an unbelievable addition to Fort Wayne, Henry said during his remarks before the ceremony.
Mike Packnett, president and CEO of Parkview Health, said Science Central is doing its part to continue to attract more people downtown. Henry and Packnett served on the capital fundraising committee for the new project.
Henry said the major impetus behind the project has been Fisher, who joined Science Central five years ago.
I’m not sure any of us can match his enthusiasm on this, Henry said.
Fisher celebrated his anniversary of joining the science museum in October by freezing a long-term debt note in liquid nitrogen and crushing it up. It marked the end of long-term debt for Science Central, a feat achieved by cutbacks and increased community support.
Doug Hiatt, who served as chair of Science Central’s board of directors until last month, said that in the past, Science Central was just trying to figure out how to survive on a lower budget. Now, he said, the museum is attracting projects that will improve the community.