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Hands-on museum blows past initial hurdle

New Port Richey is one step closer to getting a tornado downtown. City officials learned last week that their grant application for a science museum has cleared a preliminary hurdle. A tornado exhibit would be one of the museum's offerings.

According to a memo from City Manager Gerald Seeber, the staff of the state Cultural Affairs Division has recommended approval of the city's grant application, which asked for $250,000 to help build the museum.

The recommendation was good news to City Council member Peter Altman. Altman first raised the idea for a museum during a council meeting in August. Getting the recommendation was a testament to what could be accomplished when the community pulls together, he said.

"We made a Herculean effort in six weeks to put the application together," he said. "This is a tremendous opportunity for us."

The city's science museum, along with 46 other projects statewide, next will be reviewed by the Secretary of State's Office. From there, the list is passed on to the Legislature, which also will review and trim the list.

So the committee's recommendation is by no means the final word, said Kathy Engerran, spokeswoman for the Cultural Affairs Division.

"It's all still pretty initial," she said. "Things are not complete until (Gov. Bob) Martinez signs the budget in late July."

Last year, $12-million in projects were recommended, and $10.2-million was allocated for the projects, Ms. Engerran said.

Planners want the museum to be an extension of Great Explorations, the Hands-on Museum in St. Petersburg. The museum would benefit residents of all ages, Altman said.

"It is seen as a frivolous project, but to me and others who are aware of the state of the labor force .

.

. it is an important tool in maintaining the level of interest in the hard sciences," Altman said. "It's not just for students, it's for everyone."

The proposed site is on Missouri Avenue next to NCNB National Bank. Officials of NCNB have made large donations to Great Explorations and have discussed the possibility of donating the land for the project.

The grant will help pay for construction of the building. The city still will have to raise $250,000 to complete construction. If NCNB donates the land for the museum, the city would have to pay only $250,000 for a $750,000 museum, Altman said.

The city will have to look to other sources to buy exhibits and run the museum. In the first two years, usually only 35 percent of operation costs are covered by admissions, said Jean Stacey, director of administration and finance for Great Explorations in St. Petersburg. The rest has to come from private, city, and other grants, she said.

But that didn't faze Altman, who already was thinking ahead to the next step for the Pasco Hands-on Committee.

"We need to get them activated in developing the community support for council to endorse the project," he said. "It's not going to happen tomorrow, but it is going to be exciting. We may get that tornado yet."

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