Science centre remodel gets provincial investment

Halifax’s Discovery Centre is getting $700,000 from the provincial government and $8.5 million from Nova Scotia Power for its relocation and remodeling.

By Torey Ellis

The current Discovery Centre building has the height but not the width to accommodate the exhibits, says Centre spokeswoman Jill Wagner (Torey Ellis photo).

Halifax’s Discovery Centre is getting $700,000 from the provincial government and $8.5 million  from Nova Scotia Power for its relocation and remodeling.

The project will see the Centre move from its current Barrington Street location to the Scotia Power building on Lower Water Street.

“Halifax has a great deal to gain from this project,” says Brian Watson, the provincial economic development project manager.

The $700,000 comes from the jobsHere program, which was announced last fall.

The program aims to improve the economy through “learning and innovation,” says Watson. “The Discovery Centre is a really good fit. These strategies are long term. Students are exposed to science, get excited about it and start thinking about careers in science.”

The new building, Morris and Lower Water St., will house both Nova Scotia Power and the Discovery Centre (Torey Ellis photo).

Though the investment comes on the heels of provincial funding cuts for all levels of education, Discovery Centre spokeswoman Jill Wagner says she doesn’t think the decisions are related.

“This investment is coming from the Department of Economic Development,” she says, “it’s a completely different function.”

Wagner says  the centre is “a compliment to what’s happening in the classroom,” specifically, a program called Science on the Road, which brings science and technology from the Discovery Centre to rural communities in Nova Scotia.

The Discovery Centre gets about 80,000 visitors per year, mostly elementary school students. Wagner hopes it will increase to over 100,000 by the end of the renovation.

The $8.5 million being invested by Nova Scotia Power includes free rent for 25 years, saving which will result in the biggest changes to the centre, says Wagner.

“The amount of rent we’re paying now, for a non-profit, is a problem. We can take those savings and inject that back into our exhibits,” says Wagner. “It’ll be a very different experience for visitors.”

Though Wagner can’t say what new exhibits may be planned, she says the current kiosk-style activities will be completely scrapped in favour of themed galleries.

The current building was “not purpose-built,” she says, and exhibits are often divided between floors. “In our new location, we can basically build the interior of the space however we want.”

12-year-old Grace Weickert and her mother Rebecca “can’t even count” the number of times they’ve been to the Barrington Discovery Centre, and have found it crowded when school trips are visiting.

Rebecca Weickert has no problem with the provincial funding.

“I don’t think anything educational can be underfunded,” she says.

Jane Trenholm, another mother who frequents the Discovery Centre, agrees with Weickert but acknowledges the disparity between the centre and educational funding in general.

“Education is something that reaches everyone, so they should be paramount,” she says, “but it depends on the amount. I don’t think a couple hundred thousand dollars will impact the educational system at all.”

Watson says he doesn’t know whether the investing parties will have any input on the content of the centre.

David Rodenhiser of Nova Scotia Power says the company has no such intentions. “They do a great job. We would let them continue with that,” he says. “It’s a great opportunity to bring the public into our space.”

“We know we need to start somewhere, and this seems like a great place for that,” says Watson. “We’re getting students excited about science for the long run.”

External links
Original Press Release
Nova Scotia Power – Project Information
Discovery Centre