Of all the grand schemes envisioned for the state's capital city a decade ago, the $150 million Connecticut Science Center promised to be the most wondrous. So far, it hasn't disappointed. Its design contest drew four of the world's best architects to Hartford, and the winner, a see-through structure with a floating ribbon of a roof suggesting a magic-carpet ride, will be open by late 2008.
But the center needs at least $10 million more than anticipated. The very things that make the building magical - the four stories of glass walls that give a bird's-eye view of the Connecticut River, for example - are driving up construction costs by about 10 percent.
The state should cover the overage to finish the job. It's a small price to pay for an enchanting place that will draw children to Hartford like wizards to Hogwarts.
Without state help, the Science Center might have to dip into its exhibits budget. What to sacrifice? "I Spy" genius Walter Wick's search-and-find photographic exhibit? The flight chair that lets riders explore Mars? The forensic lab? These are impossible choices.
The Science Center has done its part in cutting costs. It has scaled back the building's size and expects only 15 percent of the $7.9 million annual operating budget to come from the state, compared with an industry average of 25 to 30 percent. It has also raised all but $9 million of the $38.7 million promised from private sources and is on track to reach that goal by opening day.
Pfizer, Pitney Bowes, Northeast Utilities, United Technologies, Aetna, St. Paul Travelers, Phoenix, GE, Chase family members and many others have given generously. They know the value of science in a society hypnotized by Hollywood and losing ground to fast-growing nations. They will be asked to do even more. But only the state has the wherewithal to close the $10 million construction gap and let the wizardry begin.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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