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South Florida Science Center and Aquarium - Humble beginnings, strong island support

Read the story in the Palm Beach Daily News here.

Welcome addition - Revamped Science Center and Aquarium a fine cultural expansion.                  PBDN June 9, 2013

It has traveled a path as volatile as any laboratory experiment, but the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is finally open for business. And is it something to rediscover. If you're not familiar with the name of the organization, it's the newly rechristered--and much expanded--South Florida Science Museum. The institution celebrated its grand reopening Friday, June 7, on Dreher Trail, just behind the Palm Beach Zoo.

Revamped at a cost of nearly $5 million, the facility has much to delight children and their parents, including an extensive Aquariums of the Atlantic exhibit featuring 90 species of fish. Other Florida-centric features include a new River of Grass exhibit about the Everglades, and one focusing on hurricanes.

In all, the outdated facility built in 1959 has expanded from 20,000 square feet to 32,000 square feet, including space to house temporary touring exhibits from other institutions.

“We are going from a kind of second-tier organization to a first-tier organization in our community,” says Palm Beacher Lewis Crampton, chief executive officer of the Science Center since 2010.

That, of course, has been the dream of the institution's supporters for more than a decade. Long gone are the grandiose plans that would have seen a $45 million, 100,000-square-foot facility built from scratch on land donated by Palm Beach County in Lake Lytal Park. Rivaling science museums such as Fort Lauderdale's, it was to be named for the late Marvin and Elsie Dekeboum of Palm Beach, who provided the lead $10 million challenge grant.

But money from other donors never materialized, and the project was scrapped six years ago.

Instead, the revamp was largely paid for with $4 million from a 2002 county recreation bond, augmented by private donations, including major support from the Quantum Foundation.

Already, the museum is eyeing it future. Plans include replacing the oldest part of the building with new exhibit space and facilities for early childhood education.

But Palm Beacher Matt Lorentzen, chairman of the museum's board of trustees, points out that the just-completed update will help the museum address the future in another important way. By increasing its outreach to Palm Beach County schools, the institution can help foster students’ interest in science.

And that's a fine goal, indeed, in a world where the demand for professionals in careers related to science, technology, engineering and math is only expected to increase.

The reworked facility may be far removed from the one envisioned a decade ago. But it is still a welcome and long-overdue addition to the area's cultural landscape. It's also a lot of fun.

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