Science Central turns 15

Sparking knowledge and fun in city’s power plant

By Bonnie Blackburn

Martin Fisher is excited. Science Central, the hands-on science and technology center at 1950 N. Clinton St., turns 15 this month, and like any adolescent, it’s growing.

“We’ve had five or six ribbon-cuttings this past year, on traveling exhibits, new classrooms and new permanent exhibits,” Fisher said. He’s been the center’s executive director for the past three years — three years filled with growth in the museum’s offerings as well as its bottom line.

“We serve about 140,000 people through onsite visits and outreach at schools, festivals, community centers all over the tri-state region,” Fisher said. “We’re the only science center in the state of Indiana that’s for everyone.”
The center is celebrating its Nov. 5 birthday, a Friday this year, on Saturday, Nov. 6, with a parade around its grounds, kids activities, games, face-painting and balloon animals. The center’s annual fund-raising gala, Open the Doors To Science, will be Nov. 12.

When Science Central was first proposed back in the late 1980s, Fort Wayne’s former City Light & Power plant had sat empty for many years, a disused and deteriorating eyesore on North Clinton Street. Thanks to the efforts of countless individuals and corporate donors, the building was overhauled into the fascinating and fun place it is today. Where else in town can you learn the intricacies of the human body along with the intricacies of the city’s sewer system in one room?

The building’s former life hasn’t been forgotten, as some of the equipment used in the city’s first major power plant remains as permanent exhibits inside the center. There has been a power plant on that site as far back as 1908, when the first City Power & Light plant opened with two 500-kilowatt coal-powered steam generators and three boilers providing power to 420 arc-streetlights, schools and government buildings. As the city grew and demand increased, the plant’s capacity was expanded and the city began to provide power to commercial and residential customers.

In 1929, a major expansion was begun, and the building took on the now-familiar look it has today (though we doubt the power plant’s smokestacks were painted in their current shades of “rainbow”). At its peak in the 1950s, the plant’s four generators and five 60-foot tall boilers produced 47,500 kilowatts of electricity. The plant was closed in February 1975, and in March 1975 it was leased to competitor Indiana-Michigan Power. (The tale of the City Light lease drags on, however.)

Indiana-Michigan Power along with many other donors began a $9.2 million renovation in November 1991 that began the process of turning the old building into the educational facility it is today.

That Science Central is a fun addition to downtown is a given; that it was one of the first of the many “catalyst” projects that has helped the continuing evolution of downtown may have been forgotten. But remember this: in November 1995, Headwaters Park had only opened its first phase a month earlier, the Grand Wayne Center and the Allen County Public Library were years away from expansion, and the TinCaps were known as the Wizards — and no one had heard of Parkview Field.

Science Central’s success was never guaranteed, and Fisher admits it’s had some hard times. But Fisher said revenues and attendance are up and expenses are down, meaning it is operating more efficiently and providing hands-on knowledge to thousands more area residents each year.

Here’s to 15 more wonderful years of fun and fascinating science. ■

Posted: Mon, 11/29/2010 - 1:35 pm
Last updated: Mon, 10/29/2012 - 1:50 pm