Discovery Museum to begin Phase II

Location offers river views, could serve as cultural hub

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<p>
	Faith Worthy, 7, left, and Amelia O’Ketter, 7, right, take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Durango Discovery Museum at the Powerhouse on Thursday afternoon. Faith is the daughter <br />
	of Joe and Debbie Worthy, and Amelia is the daughter of Jim Ketter and Ilene O’Ketter.<br />
	<br />
	 </p> Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Herald

Faith Worthy, 7, left, and Amelia O’Ketter, 7, right, take part in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Durango Discovery Museum at the Powerhouse on Thursday afternoon. Faith is the daughter
of Joe and Debbie Worthy, and Amelia is the daughter of Jim Ketter and Ilene O’Ketter.

 

Golden shovels hit the dirt and at least one trash can exploded in the name of science Thursday at the DurangoDiscovery Museum at the Powerhouse, a planned energy-themed interactive science center that should serve as the“cultural hub" of the Animas River corridor when it's completed in October, said Mayor Leigh Meigs.

“I've got to confess, I thought this wasn't going to happen," she said into the solar-powered public address system ata groundbreaking ceremony in front of about 100 people. “It turns out, I was wrong."

Meigs could have been talking about the dud liquid-nitrogen bomb prepared by “Labcoat Lexie" Wallace, the museum'seducation coordinator and possessor of perhaps the city's coolest job.

“It's not an experiment if it goes right," she told the crowd right after the bomb fizzled in a buried plastic trashcan about a quarter full of water.

Observation: The bottle had a hole in it. Analysis: Get a new bottle, and retest.

Result: Blast off.

The 50-gallon plastic drum was shredded by the skyward shot, adding depth to the term “Sudden Science," the museum'schild outreach program. Through it, Wallace visits schools, leads after-school programs and weeklong summer camps,blowing up trash cans to teach about thermodynamics and physical properties, and performing other experiments, aswell.

“It can be a daunting field," she said, while several kids clamored to know, “How'd you do that?"

Meigs was actually referring to the eight-year ride the museum has taken so far. The Durango City Council of 2002resolved to fund the project, but first, mercury and radioactive material had to be extracted from the site.

Environmental Health Specialist Mark Rudolph, with the state health department, was at the groundbreaking to announcethat the museum was on track to be “100 percent safe for kids" in time for the October opening.

“From La Plata County's perspective, this is a day we've waited to arrive for a long time," said La Plata CountyManager and self-confessed “science junkie" Shawn Nau.

Phase I included exterior renovation and the environmental remediation Rudolph helped oversee, and was completed acouple of years ago for about $1.1 million.

The museum board of directors has raised 85 percent of its funding goal for Phase II after four years, said ExecutiveMuseum Director Claire Bradshaw. The estimated cost of Phase II is $2 million.

Phase III is scheduled to start in 2013, and will include more exhibit space and possibly a planetarium-style theater.That segment will cost about $3 million.

When Phase II is complete, the Powerhouse will feature “hands-on" science exhibits that touch on the past, present andfuture of energy in America, Bradshaw said. General contractor Colorelli Construction of Durango will remodel theinterior of the Powerhouse and the nearby administrative and education building. A river-facing plaza will be builtaround the existing smokestack.

The Durango Discovery Museum currently operates in a packed attic space at the Durango Arts Center.

The museum will close on June 18 and move to the new location by October. Bradshaw expects foot traffic to double, fromabout 15,000 visits per year at the 1,500-square foot DAC site, to an expected 30,000 at the 5,000-square footPowerhouse.

Bradshaw said the extra visits will yield $3 million in “economic impact," in part by adding days to tourist stays.

On display were sketches of a climbable, synthetic “e-tree" planned for the Powerhouse and intended to teach aboutphotosynthesis, and a “Solar Tube" stretching from the floor to the building's high ceiling.

“It'll kind of be a chance to play with the sun," said museum Marketing Director Haz Said. “It's a piece of art, andit's scientific."

gandrews@durangoherald.com