Today’s breakfast meeting meant to drum up support for Loudoun County’s future Children’s Science Center was not a typical fundraising event. It was all about the kids.
A couple of young science enthusiasts directed guests to the Belmont Country Club ballroom. “Good morning. Welcome,” another budding scientist said as guests entered the room. Other kids invited guests to a table with models of what they would like the Children’s Science Center to look like.
“This is our dream museum,” 10-year-old Auhona Zaman said.
“It’s really about how kids can make their mark on the world,” 11-year-old Paige Dury added.
The event was meant to provide an update on the long-talked-about Children’s Science Center and to ask community leaders to write a check to help make it possible. The science center will be the first of its kind in the region. It will be built on land donated by the Kincora developer near the intersection of Rt. 7 and Rt. 28. More than half of its 53,000 square feet will be set aside for interactive exhibits and active visitor space.
Talk of creating a hands-on children’s science museum in Northern Virginia started almost a decade ago. In 2012, Loudoun County landed on a short list of jurisdictions in which to locate the science center and, in 2014, Kincora announced it would donate land for the project. It will be part of the larger, 424-acre Kincora project slated to include 4 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail, 1,400 condos and apartments as well as a hotel.
For years, teachers and supporters of the Children’s Science Center have brought projects and displays to schools as part of the Museum Without Walls initiative. Then, in 2015, to give budding scientists a taste of what the future museum, the Children’s Science Center opened a smaller version, called The Lab, in the Fair Oaks mall.
Lee Ann Brownlee, a member of the science center’s management team, said The Lab’s opening felt like a happy ending to many. “But we like to think of it as a happy beginning,” she added.
Bringing the full science center to fruition is expected to take five or more years, depending on how much money can be raised. The science center’s first phase is projected to cost $30 million in capital expenses, plus $5 million in operating costs, and the center’s board chairwoman Amy Burke said the goal is to raise about half of the total cost of the project. This year alone, the goal is to raise $1 million.
The center’s Executive Director Nene Spivy said that projections show that it won’t take long for the science center to pump more than that total price tag back into the local economy. “Looking at the economic impact of the science center, it will take two years to pay back the cost to build it,” Spivy added.
The architectural design phase is underway this spring. Later next month, the science center team will hold town hall-style meetings to get input from community members; the plan is to go to schools and libraries to get ideas from both adults and kids.
“We really want kids to say want in a science center,” Spivey said.
Zac Dunn, a 12-year-old Stone Hill Middle School student, served as one of the event’s speakers. And he wasn’t shy about saying what he’d like to see in a state-of-the-art science museum. He suggested exhibits and displays that teach kids about a variety of sciences—from biology and physics, to computer science and engineering.
“Most kids have a passion for this stuff, but you never know about it until you see it in action,” he said. And his career of choice? Theoretical physics.
Learn more about the Children’s Science Museum at childsci.org.