Explorit Turns 20! A Look Back at the First Twenty Years
by Nicole Starsinic

Explorit History Part II: 1986 - 1992
Changing, Expanding

From the beginning, the Davis Science Center attracted enthusiastic and hard-working volunteers, earnest in their efforts to bring hands-on science to the public. Many had previous ties to the educational community, both through the local schools and UC Davis. Others were excited by the vision of bringing science to the masses and making it interesting.

Where other initiatives might have fallen apart, as volunteers came and went, the Center continued to grow, in part because of the longevity of the people involved. Looking through past rosters, key names of those who served at least 10 years in some official capacity jump from the page:

Anne Hance, Coordinator in 1983 then Executive Director from 1984-1993 and Board Member 1994-2002; Evelyn Buddenhagen, Program Director 1984-89 and 1991-96 and current Board Member since 1996; Lars Anderson, Board Member since 1994 (and three-time President); Ethel Sassenrath, Board Member 1984-1998; Dana Richards, Board Member 1983-1993; Steve Bick, Board Member and Treasurer since 1990; and many more (find their names on our Web site). Many of the founding members of the Center have continued with their involvement, striving to create the professionally-run organization it is today.

As 1987 began, it was becoming clear that the Center’s success depended on several factors: more input and training from experts in the science center field, professional fundraising endeavors, and a permanent home of its own. In order to build a business model that would allow the Center to grow, the executive and program directors, Hance and Buddenhagen, began working with experienced science center and exhibit designers from the California Academy of Science, the Oakland Museum, the Ontario Science Center, and others to gather professional expertise for the growing programs and exhibits. Staff and board members began visiting area nature and science centers to gather information on successful philosophies and policies.

Out of these efforts, the Center elucidated the individuality of its style, documented program goals and objectives, developed a Board Handbook and personnel policies, and expanded the science programs offered in the community. A new advisory group comprised of local scientists, “Scientists for the Science Center,” spearheaded by board members Sassenrath and Anderson, formed in 1988 to advise the Board and Staff and an even more ambitious project, the Science Alliance, took shape in 1991. The Science Alliance, a consortium dedicated to addressing the public’s lack of interest and knowledge in science, held its first dinner in 1992 in Sacramento with about ninety influential political, business, and education leaders.

Richard leakey teaches a classThe Center has been privileged to be visited by several illustrious scientists including paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey who was introduced to the Center by UC Davis Professor Henry McHenry. Leakey was hosted at a special reception and even taught a class at the Center sitting informally on the floor with the children. Later, Professor Mark McNamee brought biophysicist Francis Crick to see the Center. The program at the time was about Native American life and Crick happily got involved with grinding acorns in a pestle and mortar!

Raising Money
Through increased fundraising efforts, the Center secured $12,000 from the State Department of Education License Plate fund to purchase a van for the traveling programs. The annual Wine Tasting and Auction, rummage sales, the Tools and Toys Science Expositions (1987 and 1988), the Flight of Fantasy (May 1989) and other special events like the Chocolate Festival continued to generate funds contributing to the Center’s ability to start paying its staff and to the creation of some new programs. Meanwhile, volunteer activity flourished in activities such as the Astronomy Club, the Cutting Edge of Science Lecture Series, and the Meet the Scientist program.

In 1990, the Institute of Museum Services awarded the Center $10,000 and the UNOCAL foundation awarded $10,000 for a summer program in West Sacramento. Always looking for dynamic, new fundraising ideas, in 1992 Trustees Randy Sater and Pamela Marrone initiated the first Annual Corporate Science Challenge, at which regional companies compete against each other in a quiz show science challenge. The Corporate Science Challenge continues to be one of the Center’s most successful fund-raisers.

Creative Products
As programs continued to expand, the Center worked on increasing science literacy through a different approach—the development of publications. On The Science Beat, a 122-page book of places for a family to go and learn about science was published in 1986. In 1988, the Center designed a 12-page tabloid, Dinosaur Examiner, with illustrations by Ranger Rick art editor Frank Fretz, and distributed it through the Davis and Vacaville newspapers.

A second tabloid, Supermarket Examiner, designed by Buddenhagen, was underwritten by Safeway for $25,000. Safeway distributed it through schools in Yolo, Solano and Sacramento counties in 1991. In 1992, Safeway paid for a second printing of 100,000 which was distributed throughout California and Hawaii. The same year, Kaiser Permanente purchased the Center’s health booklet “Time for a Checkup” to distribute through the Science in Your World program. Staff members continued outreach as they presented at several conferences and authored six of the seven Eco Experiments in the national bestseller 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth.

Establishing a Home
Meanwhile, the issue of finding a long-term home continued. The building prospectus developed in 1984 with architect Maria Ogrydziak matured as the years went by but the basic principles driving the sort of facility that would ultimately be needed to complement programs did not change very much. From 1987 to 1989, the Center operated out of a classroom on loan from the Davis School District in West Davis Intermediate (now Willett Elementary) and began a capital campaign to fund the proposed permanent home. In 1987, the Center signed a 50-year lease with the City of Davis for space at the southeast corner of Central Park and contracted with architect Dean Unger for design and construction of its building.

By 1989, due to overcrowding, the Davis School District needed the Center’s space for classes and the Center relocated to a smaller space at 2810 Chiles Road. At the same time, the Center started negotiations with Mace Ranch Investors (MRI) for the donation of three acres of land in East Davis to be used as a possible alternative building site to Central Park.

MRI finalized the donation in 1990 and the Center officially decided to forgo the site in Central Park and move the building plan to the East Davis location. The Board contracted with museum designer Tomas Ancona to work with Unger to create a building to fit the new location. In April 1991, the Davis Science Center recorded title to the three acres donated by MRI in the name of Frank Ramos.

The Center continued to raise funds for the new building but by fall of 1991, fundraising plans were stagnating overall. The Center’s efforts were divided between developing a sound Annual Campaign for program operations and the Capital Campaign. The national economy was in poor health and the Center’s energy was divided between two campaigns so that both were suffering. After much deliberation, the Center decided to focus on the General Fund Development and look at other options for the building plan.

At this time, developer Ramos began working with the Center’s development coordinator, Cherie Porter, and the City of Davis to discuss the City taking title to a ranch house on the future Mace Ranch Park site and leasing it to the Science Center. The City of Davis agreed and the Center signed a lease for the house and its immediate outbuildings.

In Mace Ranch
Renovations began on the house in December 1991. Although the location and plans were dramatically different from the original design and location in Central Park, the Center would soon have a long-term home. Remodeling came from the funds raised for the original building plan and the $100,000 provided in the 1988 State Resources grant. The Center also received about $127,000 from in-kind contributions of labor, equipment and materials from companies in the area. Harrison Construction of Davis provided general contractor services and Dana Richards, the Center’s building coordinator, oversaw the renovations.

The Center moved into the Mace Ranch house with a 5-year lease from the City in June 1992. Many of our readers may recall that when the Center first moved into this location, the address was 3939 Second Street, not Fifth as it is today. At this point, Fifth Street hadn’t made it out this far in East Davis. In the September 1992 issue of Sci-ence Centered, Evelyn Buddenhagen wrote about going to work at the new location:

Each day as I drive slowly through the two rows of stately trees that mark the entrance to the Mace Ranch House from Second Street, I am blessed with 90 seconds of utter peace. The generous branches provide far more than shade. There is a quietude, a serenity, a comfort in the strength of the years that nurtured their growth.

As timing would have it, 1992 marked the Davis Science Center’s 10th anniversary. On June 7th, the Center held a “10-sational” Festival for the public, with booths, games, pony rides, food and music.

Ten years after beginning in a room in the District offices, the Davis Science Center could look back on a decade of tremendous growth. The Center had succeeded in establishing itself as a force in science education both in the local community and throughout the region. The efforts to increase marketing and fundraising, establish a permanent location, and develop a professional, long-term business vision helped transform the fledgling enterprise into Explorit Science Center. By fall, relocation was complete and the Center opened its doors to the public on September 7, with the new name: Explorit! The Science Experience.

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Explorit Science Center
P.O. Box 1288, Davis, CA 95617, USA
Phone: (530)756-0191     Fax: (530)756-1227