Burpee, Discovery Center expansion to ease growing pains

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The Burpee Museum of Natural History and the Discovery Center will have room to add new excitement for visitors after a $12.5 million expansion project is completed. While the construction project has a $9.5 million price tag, $3 million in endowments are being sought as well.

The latest contributors are, though they compete for health care customers, Swedish American Health System, Rockford Health System and OSF St. Anthony Medical Center. Each gave a $75,000 gift.

The expansion campaign has been dubbed “Connecting the Future.” Campaign Chairman Dr. Alan Brown, a former school district No. 205 superintendent, said federal, corporate and individual donations of more than $100,000 totaled $3.025 million.

Woodward Governor contributed $1 million. Supply Core donated $250,000, and the AMCORE Foundation gave $150,000. The CLARCOR Foundation, Gloyd Family Foundation, Exelon, Janet Kjellstrom as well as Dan and Ruth Nicholas each gave $100,000.

The project has also garnered $950,000 in federal grants, with U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo’s help.

Brown said smaller individual donations have brought the entire total raised to $4.2 million.

“It all adds up,” he said, stressing the importance of everyone’s help.

Burpee Museum President and Chief Executive Officer Lewis Crampton said expanding the museum and Discovery Center wouldn’t just impact the facilities. “We’re talking about adding ‘snap, crackle and pop’ to this community. It really needs it,” Crampton said.

He said the plans, effectively uniting the facilities, are meant to do more than bring them together. Crampton said creating a “civic asset” is the aim.

According to Discovery Center Marketing Manager Ann Marie Walker, many people see the Discovery Center as a valuable asset to the community. Walker noted 6,000 people came through Discovery’s doors between March 26 and April 1. She also said there were 150,000 visitors in 2005, while serving another 35,000 people through outreach programs.

Walker said the expansion project would double Tot Spot’s existing size.

“We know we need more room for our youngest visitors,” she said.

Discovery Center Director Sarah Wolfe said the expansion project would also add programming and classroom space.

The project was announced during an April 13 press conference. JANE the Dinosaur will reside in her very own building on the banks of the Rock River, while a shared exhibit hall will connect the museum and the Discovery Center.

Although those changes are coming, not everything will be transformed. Walker said the 8,000-square-foot outdoor science park would remain intact. She said many people had expressed concern about the park’s future in the face of the project.

Brown said the project could do more than ease growing pains and could revitalize downtown Rockford.

He said a chance to improve the community inspired the three health care companies to get behind the project, and they realized it would help make the community more attractive to potential workers.

“It’s going to make it an easier sell to potential employers,” Brown said, adding that the companies see it as a “quality of life” issue.

According to Brown, the public will have the chance to get involved once 60 percent of construction costs has been raised. Brown said the public phase committee has been meeting to devise ways people could help. The campaign’s public phase will be launched in June.

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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