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Guest column: Science ed in Detroit has too high a price

By Kurt Metzger/Data Driven Detroit

Detroit area businessman and philanthropist Dexter Ferry founded the Detroit Science Center in 1970. In 1978, the DSC moved to its current facility in Midtown at the corner of John R and Warren, adjacent to the Detroit Institute of Arts and Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

The center was closed briefly in the early 1990s after losing funding from the state of Michigan, but re-opened in 1991. It operated until 1999 when it closed for construction on a $30 million renovation and expansion -- tripling the available exhibit space and adding new theater and performance areas. A grand re-opening celebration was held in July 2001 and further expansion brought a new Digital Dome Planetarium in December 2001 and a 4D Toyota Engineering Theater in 2008.

Kurt Metzger is director of Data Driven Detroit at City Connect Detroit, a nonprofit in Detroit established by foundations to build greater capacity for people to work together, and improve lives and communities.

In partnership with the Thompson Educational Foundation, the Detroit Science Center embarked on another expansion in April 2008 to create a new college-prep charter school named University Prep Science & Math Middle School on its downtown campus. The school facility has classrooms, gymnasium with locker rooms, food service, offices, and shares conference space and the lobby with the science center.

But the center closed on Sept. 26, 2011, after its board decided an ongoing deficit had created a financial crisis that couldn’t be fixed without halting operations.  (The Detroit Children’s Museum picked up some slack, but Federal funding restrictions preclude Detroit Public Schools from extending the museum’s services to non-DPS students or opening the museum to the general public.)

After a year of much behind-the-scenes activity, Board Chairman Tom Stephens re-opened the newly named Michigan Science Center to the public on Dec. 26, 2012, thanking more than two dozen corporate, foundation and individual donors for helping the museum to re-open.

He continued his remarks by stating that the financial support from the community "is an indication of how important STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education is to this community. … It is our vision to become the premier center for innovative, participatory science, technology, engineering and math experiences in Michigan and the Midwest.”

While I am truly pleased with the news (having been a member when my children were growing up), I must temper that pleasure to a degree.

Any opportunity to stimulate our children's interest in science is critical. We should be embarrassed by our world rankings on science test scores, STEM college enrollment, etc. Michigan's test scores in science have shown little improvement over the years. A new report, soon to be released by Data Driven Detroit on Detroit's youth, shows science test scores abysmally low.

Detroit youth need access to a science center, located in the center of the city, as much or more than any other children. However, access for them requires that an adult (anyone over 12 years of age) pay $12.95, while those ages 2 to 12 years pay $9.95. Additional fees apply to attractions such as IMAX and planetarium shows, as well as special exhibitions.

With half of Detroit households living on less than $25,000 per year and 57 percent of children living in poverty, how can a single mother with a young child and a teenager be expected to set aside $35.85 for admission alone? School field trip resources have dwindled, as costs for insurance, etc. have escalated, so that access is limited, as well.

A great many wonderful people came together to bring this jewel back to life. Perhaps we can come together as a city and region to figure out how we can help those who can benefit most to access science on someone else's dime.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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