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Headwaters Science Center: Seeking state money

Laddie Elwell, director of Headwaters Science Center, shows how a new facility would be expanded to better meet the needs of its 25,000 visitors each year. In addition to more space, the new building also would feature a walk-out area for outdoor exploration and learning. Pioneer Photo/ Monte Draper

Headwaters Science Center is ready to move into the future.

After eight years of contemplating relocation into a larger facility, the Science Center now is prepared to secure financing in line with its plans.

A combination of public and private funds, as well as grants, will be needed to fund the new building.

"It's always been in the back of our minds, but what happened is that we're having trouble handling the business we have now," said Laddie Elwell, director of Headwaters Science Center.

The Science Center services more than 25,000 visitors every year. Its current 27,000-square-foot facility is maxed out in space with exhibits and learning areas.

"When we get 200 kids in here, we just don't have any room," she said.

A new facility, a moon-shaped building that would be located along the Mississippi between Pamida and the Beltrami County History Center, would have just about twice the space - 52,000 square feet - of the existing facility.

If everything goes according to plan, the new site would be constructed in 2012 and open to the public in 2013.

The Bemidji City Council on Monday voted 4-0 to endorse a resolution in support of the Science Center and its request to the Legislature for $13 million in bonding dollars. The Legislature will consider bonding requests in 2010.

"To expand it and get bigger with more exhibits does only good for our children and our community," said City Councilor Kevin Waldhausen, whose family has had longtime memberships to the Science Center.

The $13 million, if granted, would cover roughly half the cost for the new Science Center.

"Science center exhibits are terribly expensive," Elwell said, noting that Headwaters Science Center makes most of its own.

State Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji, and Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, have been very supportive of the center's efforts, Elwell said.

Additionally, she said, supporters already have been going to St. Paul to talk with other legislators about the project.

The Legislature in 1998 received $200,000 from the state in bonding money for the pre-design of a new center.

Working with the Headwaters Science Center has been MS&R, an architectural firm out of Minneapolis. In 2000, MS&R developed a model of what the new Science Center could look like. That model is still on display at the current center downtown.

But, that design will likely be adjusted and modified, as Elwell said the Science Center plans to have the building qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification.

"We want to work to be as 'green' as possible," she said.

In the meantime, during the wait for the next legislative session, Elwell said Headwaters Science Center will work on obtaining funding through grant opportunities.

"We're always working on grants," she said.