Plans for proposed $85M Bisbee science center discussed at public meeting

The scoping project submitted by Gallagher & Associates for the Bisbee Science Exploration and Research Center included this concept drawing of a room where students could learn computer graphics, coding, or art design for new inventions. It also includes a work table for constructing robotics or other engineering designs.

BISBEE — Thursday night, about 60 interested people came out to hear the latest scoping news from consulting firm Gallagher & Associates on a proposed Bisbee Science Exploration and Research Center (BSERC).

Senior Planner John Chiodo and Development Director Thora Colot, with Gallagher & Associates, a firm well-known for scoping and designing large and small museums and facilities, explained the process that brought them to the proposal they envisioned for the BSERC facility.

Back in April, they held a meeting and asked residents to give them ideas for what they wanted in a science center that would appeal to students, researchers, universities, professors, teachers, speakers, residents and visitors.

Chiodo and Colot took those ideas and made a presentation of what the center could offer, how much space would be needed, how much it would cost to build, and recommendations for keeping the center open and self-sustaining.

Endowments will be essential to the continued operation.

Chiodo and Colot, who are also working on a study for Freeport-McMoRan Copper and Gold, Inc., Copper Queen Branch (FMI), gave a presentation on the various interactive exhibits, live demonstrations, labs, classrooms and outdoor activities that appealed to people the most.

They determined a cost of $8.5 million to build an 8,500-square-foot center to encompass all the desires meant to bring STEAM (science, technology, exploration, art and math) studies to town for the benefit of local students, colleges and universities, as well as provide new interests for curious residents and tourists. It was estimated the center will need at least 25,000 visitors a year to remain open.

“It has to be an efficient, compact operation that generates revenue,” reported Chiodo.

Chiodo and Colot emphasized the conceptual drawings and plans are not written in stone. They were just making general recommendations at this time. The final study, to be released in a few weeks, will be available to read at the Copper Queen Public Library and on the city’s website.

While it will take some time to come up $8.5 million, Melanie Greene, owner of M. Greene Planning and Development, and University of Arizona professor Etta Kralovec, associate professor of teacher education at University of Arizona, told the group they planned to start small with a storefront mini-science center and science cafe in Old Bisbee. Since, it will take three to five years to raise the funds necessary for build-out, having the shop will let them preview what types of things work and what types do not.

Kralovec said, “We’re just looking at a pop-up storefront on Main Street. I’ve just wanted a storefront on Main Street because it looks like so much fun.”

As Greene explained, “We want to experiment with exhibits and see which ones are liked and which ones you don’t care about.”

In fact, Greene noted a bed bug study had just been completed by UA students in Bisbee. “Wouldn’t you like to hear about that? We could bring the researchers who study Bisbee here to talk about them.”

There is a catch though to using USDA money — the facility must be ADA-accessible. Finding a shop already outfitted to meet those needs may be hard to find, acknowledged Greene.

Currently, Greene is working on a National Science Foundation grant to fund the storefront that she wants to have open in October.

Greene said BSERC had received a second grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for $49,900 that would be used for the shop. The proposed project already received a $30,000 grant from USDA, $2,000 from APS, $2,000 from RAIN, and $3,000 from FMI, which provided the funds to move the project into the scoping stage and paid Gallagher & Associates.

Since there is no nonprofit to handle the money as yet, the city of Bisbee is acting as a pass-through partner, stated Greene.

However, to move forward to the big plan, volunteers are needed.

To form a nonprofit, a board of directors has to be in place with a vision, a mission and bylaws. All legal requirements must be met to get funding, noted Greene. Volunteers will be needed to renovate the storefront, as well as run it and the Science Café.

Both women are donating their time that is being used as matching funds for the current USDA grant, said Greene.

The city’s time as well counts for handling the funds and for Visitor Center Coordinator Jen Luria’s efforts to come up with branding that will be consistent with the city’s advertising efforts. Volunteer time will also count as matching dollars.

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