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Science Center Shifting Pilots

Magic Carpet Ride New leadership to take controls at launch

Hartford Courant

January 03, 2009

Theodore S. Sergi, former state education commissioner, took on a challenging post-retirement assignment more than five years ago to take the Connecticut Science Center from concept to construction. So you can understand why he says the iconic glass building going up on Hartford's riverfront is in his bloodstream and why he chokes up when talking about his decision to step down as president.

It took more than a decade and a major infusion of state cash $122 million to get the $163 million project off the ground. But sometime this spring, the doors will finally open. Mr. Sergi's job will be done. Well, almost done.

The science center president will retire again and turn the shiny new baby over to his able deputy, Matt Fleury. Mr. Sergi will stay involved as a volunteer and will have a seat on the board of directors.

He has earned some personal time and a ton of gratitude. Without his vision, his persistence and his penchant for thinking like an impresario, the project might not have generated millions in private donations and the buzz that can only grow between now and opening day.

True to his tendency to think big, he's been working on inviting no less a personage than President Barack Obama and his family to initiate the educational center. (Can you just see the Obama girls on the exhibits? he rhapsodizes.) He figures the president-elect has a soft spot for Hartford after the major reception he got here last spring at a turning point in his primary campaign. And since Mr. Obama has made science education a priority, how can he refuse?

As for Mr. Fleury, he brings continuity to the job, having been there since the beginning. He also has business experience and a deep understanding of the community that the science center will serve. Mr. Sergi paid his successor the highest compliment when he said that it would be foolish to spend the time and money to search for his replacement when that person would have "less than a 1 percent chance" of being as qualified and able as Mr. Fleury. Well said.

The new guy is well aware of the challenges that lie ahead. With the economy in the tank and the state trying to find ways to save money, not spend it, Mr. Fleury understands that he will have to watch every penny and ensure that the science center is as self-sustaining as possible. Part of his strategy will be to make the facility a symbol of science education and innovation and to "obliterate the needless contradiction between learning and fun." Sounds like a plan.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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