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.

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Rebecca Carlice...
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 12:26pm
Thank you, Kurt, for this article. Your comments are right on point. I did not realize that the entrance costs had gone up so much. That is ridiculous The Center may as well stayed closed. The public needs access to the financials for the Center and then maybe a scholarship fund can be established to assist with the cost. This should only be done once it is proven that the admission fee needs to be so high. The director may need to look at volume by reducing the cost rather than restricting access to only the wealthy..
Thu, 01/17/2013 - 3:30pm
The way Mr. Metzger describes the facility, "tripling the available exhibit space and adding new theater and performance areas. ", it seems to be more for entertaining kids with science then educating them in science. When our children were young I recall taking them to a science 'museum' where they were engaged in doing things with science while the science was be described. There were thesemini 'ah ha' moments you could see in their eyes and their action when they realized how science was part of their everyday and it was fun to do. We took that lesson home with us and included talking about science and in the kids everyday, when they were learning to back, when they collecting cans, when we were grocery shopping. We saw how getting them to see how they were using science was more important then simply showing or telling them about science. That 'museum' in Lansing was (pardon the pun) was a spartan facility, it had none of what Mr. Metzger is so proud of, but it had an impact on our childrens learning. That science 'museum' had not high tech, it didn't have a high head count of kids going though it, but it did have a very involvement of kids with science. Mr. Metzger should be proud of the edifice he is describing, but I have to admit to little sympathy. I doubt the planners the glorious facility even consider the cost of maintaining the facility, access to the failicty by those is was supposedly target for , and it there would even be any the impact beyond the City boundaries. I would have thought it the developers were truly caring about science education they would have been less focused on how they could create a facility that could be more efficient in delivery the information and more focused on how to be more effective in getting the kids to relate to and be engaged with science. Programs and facilities that could go to the classrooms in Detroit could go to the classrooms in the out county, in western Michigan, northern Michigan, even the UP. I appreciate the educational needs of Detroit, but I see such needs extending across the whole State so I have less sympathy for those who take their bemoaning of cost to the whole State when they seem so willing to narrow their 'good intentions' to only a small part of the State. Maybe next time people have all this money to spend on such a momument they will be a bit more considerate of who and how the kids can truly gain and how to most effectively deliver ther assistance. I would be nice to have a local science experience that wasn't so high tech that the kids could actually feel what everyday science is like by using in in their own hands..