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Science Center in St. Petersburg seeks funding to stay open and innovative

ST. PETERSBURG — After initially planning to shut down in September for six months due to harsh economic conditions, the Science Center is planning on staying open.

The new executive director on board, Joe Cuenco, a former technology and marketing executive, is determined to find a way to keep the long-standing center viable.

"We'd like to raise a million dollars next year," Cuenco said, while admitting that the figure is ambitious.

As the economy plummeted over the past year, charitable donations to the center also fell. Several big fundraising dinners and events brought in less than half of what was expected this year. So with depleting resources, the center was forced to dip into its endowment.

The board asked Cuenco to become the new executive director last month, and he has since promised to ratchet up sponsorships with local corporations. Cuenco said he also wants to launch a new name for the facility, the Center for Youth Innovation, and is working on getting a corporate title for that name.

"There's a big impression that we get funding from the county, and that's simply not the case," he said.

Cuenco is also looking for ways that the center can be eligible for grant programs through the $787 billion stimulus bill President Barack Obama signed into law in February.

The curriculum will also change to one that's more focused on technology and engineering and geared more toward middle and high school students. For now, the rates for summer camps and other programs will not increase.

Helen Davis, a Science Center board member, said the group soon will open several new exciting programs to draw in kids who watch shows like CSI or Star Trek.

What's planned for the center includes a new robotics center, forensics center and a multimedia training program where students can produce video. More than 100 high school students have volunteered throughout the past week, helping to remodel the center and set up equipment.

"Our whole focus of the board is to make sure this center is open another 50 years," Davis said.

Right now, the center, which opened in 1959, has a Progress Energy room and is looking for other companies to take on similar sponsorships.

"The center fulfilled its mission for the appropriate times," Cuenco said. "Now we need to look forward to the 22nd century."

Science Center in St. Petersburg seeks funding to stay open and innovative 05/16/09 [Last modified: Saturday, May 16, 2009 4:30am]

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