Connecticut's spectacular new $165 million Science Center, with its wavy "floating" roof and its exposed orange elevator shaft and its floors of interactive galleries to get kids excited about science, will open its glass doors to the public for the first time on June 12 from 1 to 5 p.m. But state funding for the center and other cultural and arts institutions like it may get vaporized.
Last week, an army of workers was pushing hard to put the finishing touches on the freshly painted and carpeted 12-story building fronting the Connecticut River.
Yet amid the optimism and excitement that drew 1,400 people to a sold-out launch party for the Science Center on May 30 — at $125 a head — there were growing concerns about where the institution's $8.5 million annual operating budget is going to come from, particularly as the state's planned annual contribution of $1.2 million appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell's latest budget, out last week, cuts earmarked funding for the Science Center, along with every other cultural and arts attraction in the state, saving $17 million over the next two years, according to Jeff Beckham, spokesman for the Office of Policy and Management.
"It's a very difficult situation this year with the budget," said Beckham. "The governor's concept is we have to live within our means and bring our expenditures in line with our declining revenues."
An earlier version of the governor's budget cut funding to the state's cultural attractions in half in the 2010-2011 budget year, eliminating earmarks in the second year of the budget in 2011-2012 in favor of competitive grants that would have required institutions to make a case for funding.
Under that plan, the Science Center would have received $237,500 next year. But now the governor is proposing eliminating funding entirely.
"This is a challenging time to open an institution that demands a lot of support from a lot of sources," said Matt Fleury president and CEO of the Science Center. "Nevertheless it is exceptionally important that we are opening at a time when people are looking for something to celebrate."
And there is plenty to celebrate in the iconic new building on the Connecticut River. In addition to interactive exhibits dealing with space exploration, the human body, and more, the Science Center has a state-of-the-art digital 3-D theater that will seat 204 people. The opening shows will be "Dinosaurs Alive" and "3D Sun."
General admission is $16 for adults and $13 for youth ages 3-17. The 3-D movie costs an additional $6 for adults and $4 for youth, unless you buy a combination ticket, which adds only another $3 to the price of each general admission ticket.
Fleury does not want to tinker with admission prices to raise more revenue, but he has already reduced staffing costs by about 8 percent, deferred some hiring and capital expenditures, and frozen salaries and benefits across the board.
"Our hope would be to find ways to belt-tighten rather than eliminate wholesale certain functions or activities," said Fleury. "We're focused on trying to get out of the gate strong here and make those hard choices if and when we have to."