EASTON, Maine — Town officials are looking for ways to expand offerings at the Francis Malcolm Science Center, located on Route 1A, including by applying for a Community Development Block Grant and putting on fundraisers.
Town Manager Jim Gardner said the $70,000 initially raised for a proposed children’s museum in Caribou has been donated to the science center and will be used to apply for another $50,000 through the CDBG program.
Gardner explained that when plans changed to develop the Caribou Discovery Museum — a facility that would have created a variety of user-friendly models and displays, designed primarily for children — organizer Nancy Chandler approached the science center with the idea of using funds raised by the museum group toward improving the center’s offerings.
“Nancy had the museum idea for Caribou and had $70,000 in funds but didn’t see it going through to the end. The decision was made to contribute those funds to an existing facility — the Science Center — to enhance and make improvements,” said Gardner.
The Easton facility, which has been in need of an upgrade for some years now, operates on a donation basis and serves as a learning center for thousands annually.
“Over 7,000 people went through the center last year, 70 percent were kids — students from Fort Kent to Island Falls. The facility hasn’t been updated in years. Nancy met with center officials and offered the $70,000 as matching funds for a $50,000 grant,” said the town manager.
The $120,000 is expected to be used for operating costs, displays, new lighting and for the expansion of learning areas.
“This is a great project. Because CDBG’s have to go through a municipality, the center has teamed up with the town to apply. We’re partners in this. It’s a project that will not only benefit the center but will serve as an attraction for our community, drawing guests from all over, not just Aroostook County,” said Gardner.
Gardner said while the project won’t create jobs long term, it will serve children for years to come.
“The grant [application] has to be in to Augusta by June 13. We’ve filed a letter of intent and received a letter stating we’re eligible,” he said.
Gardner said this is only phase one.
“We have money allocated from the Discovery Museum. These funds will help us enhance the entrance and leads us next to the planetarium. A fundraiser is also in the works, and we will campaign for other scientists to donate,” said Gardner.
“The center functions with donations but can’t grow. The planetarium will be state of the art. We’re talking millions of dollars but it will have unlimited educational value for people of all ages,” he said.
Response to the proposed project has been positive.
“We’ve already garnered a great deal of support. We’re looking to the schools and elsewhere for letters of support. UMPI Professor Dr. Chunzeng Wang has been working with mapping at the center and we hope to continue a relationship with him on future endeavors there,” said Gardner.
Gardner estimated to redo the entire science center to make it a thoroughly modern facility could cost up to $275 million. He said it’s a matter of taking it a step at a time.
“It’s doable. We just need to focus on taking small bites, starting with the $120,000 for displays and operating costs — performing the immediate updates. After that’s done, we’ll look at what our next step will be and go from there,” said Gardner.
For information, call Gardner at 488-6652.
For information about the science center and its programs, visit www.francismalcolmsciencecenter.com.