Sacramento Bee

Sacramento can’t miss science center opportunity

September 11, 2017

By Richard Pan and Gary S. May

Special to The Bee

The Great American Eclipse enticed many of us to put down our phones, set politics aside and take in the wonder of an event that won’t take place again in the U.S. for seven years. As two science geeks – a physician and an engineer – we couldn’t help but wonder who among those schoolkids watching from playgrounds and rooftops would choose a career in science or even astronomy.

Science must be experienced. “Free-choice” science learning, which takes place outside the classroom, allows children and adults, regardless of economic background, access to experiences that build passion for pursuing science careers. The need for improvement in science education is acute in the Sacramento region, where science test results are some of the lowest in the country.

We have an opportunity to transform the current Discovery Science Center, one of our region’s best resources for informal science learning, into the Powerhouse Science Center. We can leverage public and private resources while saving taxpayers significant dollars – if we act quickly.

The new Powerhouse project would be housed in the historic PG&E power station on Sacramento’s riverfront. It will cost about $52 million – including $20 million in city funding needed to close a funding gap – to enable construction to begin in 2018.

Most of the city funding will be used to renovate the historic building, which the city owns and is responsible for preserving. Remaining project funds would come from public and private sources, visitors and state grants.

The City Council discusses the project Tuesday. Supporters want the city’s commitment to help repay low-cost bonds that lower the borrowing cost from $2.4 million annually to $1.6 million. There are limited allocations available for these bonds, and we are running out of time. This is an opportunity too good to pass up. But the deadline is here.

There is little debate on the value the new Powerhouse will bring to our region. There is overwhelming public support for greater public investment in civic amenities. The center, adjacent to other planned investments in the railyard and riverfront, is an important first step in the revitalization of Sacramento’s waterfront.

This regional science hub will also be a major visitor amenity, allowing thousands of children to experience science between now and 2024 – when the next eclipse crosses the U.S. – and years beyond. We look forward to watching it from a new Powerhouse Science Center with a new generation of engineers, physicians and astronomers.

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