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The city's only science center has been closed since September with no current date for reopening. File photo.
Sarasota Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013 4 years ago

GWIZ remains closed, seeks more funding for upgrades and expansion


GWIZ got some heavy rain, like the rest of Sarasota during Tropical Storm Debby in June.

The older, flat roof didn’t hold up well, though, and the 33,000-square-foot non-profit science center suffered significant damage.

“We had rain pouring in everywhere,” said Jennifer Holt, director of education at GWIZ.

The water damage from the storm caused mold inside the science center, which closed in September for renovations. GWIZ began a two-pronged fundraising campaign the same day the building closed to both raise funds to make the necessary repairs and begin a complete renovation designed to better meet the needs of the community.

“Even though the water damage to the building from Tropical Storm Debby was unfortunate, it actually ended up being a good thing, because it was the catalyst that started the center on its much needed journey toward (the project) GWIZ 2.0,” Holt said.

Before Debby, the upgrade had been a long-term project, but after the building was damaged, GWIZ officials decided to push up the project schedule.

“This was a project we were going to do down the road,” Holt said. “When the storm came, we saw it as a blessing. Now we thought, ‘we might as well do everything.’”

Holt said the storm left the building, which previously housed the old Selby Library, in a state of disrepair. Mold was discovered, and the building was so poorly insulated that electric bills ran as high as $14,000 a month.

The nonprofit, which moved to the former library building in 2000, is the only science center in Sarasota.
Thus far, the science center has raised enough funding to make the building repairs, estimated to cost $300,000. An individual donor, the Johnson Family Foundation, contributed $150,000. In addition, about 18% of the funding for the $1.2 million expansion has been collected, Holt said.

According to Holt, another $300,000 is needed before GWIZ can begin the repairs and start the first phase of the renovation project.

The new GWIZ will be completely different, designed to open “a whole new door of exploration,” Holt said. In fact, GWIZ officials are actually saying it shouldn’t be called a museum.

“People think ‘museum’ and they think ‘stagnant’ — not things they can touch and interact with,” Holtsaid.
The non-profit science center’s expansion will feature modernized, interactive exhibits.

One interactive video-game exhibit, called “Dinosaur,” will put children in the middle of a survival adventure against the elements of the time and other dinosaurs, which other children control in the interactive game.

“They will sit down and try to survive until the end of the cretaceous period,” Holt said.

The renovations will break the center into 10 zones, with themes including geography, dinosaurs, outer space, the Gulf Coast, science and math. The remodel will largely focus on meeting STEM education, or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, initiatives.

Within each zone, visitors will find modernized versions of exhibits, which will now be referred to as AIDEs, which stands for Adventure, Imagine, Discover and Explore. GWIZ expects to incorporate more than 120 of these AIDEs into the new museum, and they will include a variety of interactive displays.

The 3,000 current members will get an expanded membership because of the length of time the center was closed.

During the past few months, Hold has been doing outreach at schools for educational programs.

“They get educational programs that coincide with what they are studying,” Holt said.

One program includes “Stuffee,” a 7-foot-tall doll, that is used to show students how food affects their digestive system and health.

A completion date for when the center will re-open is a moving target, Holt said.

Hold said she has been answering lots of calls and responding to emails from people asking, “When will you re-open?” The earliest the updated GWIZ will open will be October.

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