Homewood community science center project moves forward

Homewood trustees approved an $80,000 contract with Global Studios on Tuesday, Feb. 10,  to begin the process of developing a community science center in the downtown area.

Betsy Soehren-Jones talks 
about her experience with
STEM education programs 
Tuesday at the Homewood 
Board of Trustees meeting. 
Soehren-Jones expressed 
support for the community
science center project. 

(Photo by Quinn Crump/The
Chronicle)

Although the road to get to this point was not without dissent, Homewood trustees were united in praise for the science center idea, which officials believe will have educational and economic benefits for the village and the area.

Ray Robertson, who was critical of what he felt was a rushed process to purchase Ryan Funeral Home, where the science center would be located, expressed support for the proposal and voted "aye."

"Hopefully everything works, and it brings people into downtown," he said. 

Village President Richard Hofeld agreed and said he thinks the center will be a magnet to attract people to the downtown area.

"It's a game changer," said Rachael Jones, former marketing coordinator for the village and the initiator of the project. She said she suggested pursuing the science center because the Homewood community tends to value progress and creativity. 

"We value education," she said. "It just seemed like a perfect fit for the town."

Jones approached Global Studios, a division* of the Exploratorium in San Fransisco, because the Exploratorium is one of the country's oldest and most renowned science centers. The Exploratorium was founded in 1969 by physicist Frank Oppenheimer, brother of famed physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.

The board also heard from Homewood resident Betsy Soehren-Jones, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education advocate who spoke in favor of developing the science center.

She described her efforts in the past two years to bring STEM programs to the south suburbs. She organized two workshops hosted at Marian High School for fifth through eighth graders using Northwestern University's Center for Talent and Development programs, and she said the results indicate a strong demand for STEM education in the area. 

"There's a lack of this kind of programming out in the community," she said, noting that in addition to local students, students came from Hinsdale, Western Springs, Michigan and northwest Indiana to attend the workshops.

Soehren-Jones urged the board to consider creative ways to generate revenue at the center, too, and cited her experience working with SciTech Hands on Museum in Aurora, where a STEM-oriented daycare center was added and helped further both the educational goals and financial stability of the project.

The contract with Global Studios covers the first phase of a two-phase planning process. The result for phase one will be a conceptual plan that addresses the general shape and feasibility of the project, according to Village Manager Jim Marino. 

If the results are positive, the board will have an opportunity to continue to the second phase, which will include more detailed planning of the center's exhibits, operations and funding. The second phase is expected to cost about $100,000.

The village's plan calls for seeking grants and sponsors to cover the cost of developing the center, although the $80,000 for the first phase is coming from village coffers. The $475,000 to purchase Ryan Funeral Home came from the Central Business District Tax Increment Financing fund before it expired at the end of 2014.

Marino said the conceptual plan is key to finding sponsors.

"Once we have something more concrete, I think we'll get more interest," he said. "They want to know what they are putting their money toward."


Related story:
Homewood trustees OK pursuit of science center development, agree to purchase Ryan's Funeral Home (The Chronicle, Dec. 23, 2014)


More information:
Global Studios
Exploratorium


Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]



* The original version of this story described Global Studios as being affiliated with the Exploratorium.

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