If Niles Parker from the Maine Discovery Museum and a group of other educators and nonprofit leaders in the Bangor area are successful, Bangor will be home to a science center in the next five or so years that will focus on education and growing the region’s science infrastructure.
Parker, along with Kirsten Hibbard of the Challenger Learning Center of Maine and Kate Dickerson of the Maine Science Festival, are proposing a physical campus that could house a science museum, events space and science-related business incubator.
Though the project is still in its infancy, Parker said he and his fellow eastern Maine educators and professionals have talked about it for several years.
“This is something that we’ve talked about even prior to the pandemic,” Parker said. “Maine is the only state in the country that doesn’t have a dedicated science museum. Wouldn’t it be great if we could bring that to Bangor?”
Portland’s waterfront was briefly home to the Portland Science Center, which closed in 2018 after a three-year run, due to low ticket sales.
Parker will bring the project to the City Council’s business and economic development committee on Tuesday, seeking committee approval for a memorandum of understanding, which would authorize the city to support the efforts to build the center, though it would not commit any funds to the project. If the committee approves it, the memorandum will go to the City Council for final approval next week.
Details on what such a campus or building would look like, where it would be, or what facilities exactly it would house are still very much in the planning stages, though Parker said that science education would be at the center of the effort.
“Right now, there is not much room for science education in elementary schools in Maine. If we could create a space that would help expose kids to science starting as early as pre-K and continuing all the way through high school, we can address that glaring gap,” Parker said.
Parker also said that with the growth of world-class facilities like The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor and the Advanced Structures and Composites Center at the University of Maine and its associated business offshoots, eastern Maine is becoming a science and research hub for Maine. The proposed science center would capitalize on that.
“There could be an incubator space for startups. It could house space for the Maine Science Festival to offer programming year-round,” he said. “We envision a hub for education and for shining a spotlight on the organizations that are already doing amazing work right here, as well as possibly create some of our own innovation.”
Parker and his colleagues said they hope to share more information about the proposal in the coming months.
“It’s way too early to talk with any specificity, but with time and progress we’re very optimistic that we can do something really amazing,” he said.
As for the Maine Discovery Museum, the downtown Bangor spot has been closed to regular visitors since the pandemic began, and has not reopened due to the fact that its primary audience — children under the age of 12 — can’t be vaccinated. It has offered summer camps, however, and has worked with area schools to provide educational programming.
Parker said the museum hopes to reopen a few weeks after pediatric vaccines are approved.