Space center's future in Pomrehn's hands

DOWNEY - For better or for worse, the Columbia Memorial Space Center located at 12400 Columbia Way is now assistant deputy city manager Scott Pomrehn's 'baby', now that its original executive director, Jon Betthauser, whose implementation of what was thought to be a well-planned science and space learning program that opened to high expectations last October, is gone, his efforts deemed too slow and inadequate.For one thing, said Pomrehn, the center is only "95 percent complete." For another, with an immediate operational budget of about $50,000 to worry about, funding goals were not being met. "We cannot hope to break even if we just depend on people walking through the door," he said. The space center cost $10 million to build, plus many millions more spent on the exhibits. To energize the center, Pomrehn wants to a) revitalize the Foundation, whose major functions will include fundraising, strategic (and even tactical) advice on target audiences and programming, and develop a multi-tier membership structure that will see lifetime members, various degrees of sponsorships, etc., together with the appropriate by-laws; and 2) make sure that all the fifth graders in the area get to visit the center and experience its eye-popping science-and-space-oriented exhibits and programs. Of course, they will be open as well to sixth, seventh, etc., graders, who will then represent successive moon, Mars, and other solar system missions. There have always been two program components, he said. One is the museum part, catering to adults, especially space enthusiasts/program retirees; and the other is the learning center part, aimed at the kids. Roger Brossmer, one of two City Council learning center subcommittee members, the other being Dave Gafin, echoes Pomrehn's two main foci for the center, saying, "We need to step up fundraising. I can think of Kaiser-Permanente, Coca-Cola, the Gas Company, other large organizations like Boeing, etc., who should be able to help us with this. There's the Mary Stauffer Foundation, and so on. But the key thing is to step it up. This, and the need to expose primarily all the fifth graders to the Challenger Learning Center experience. We need therefore to work closely with the district, with the PTAs, etc." "We have money, something like $800,000 from NASA," he continued. "We can finish the 'media wall', for example, using these funds." The media wall, according to center manager Christie Pearce, will feature a video wall, surround sound, and speaker systems. Again echoing Pomrehn's thinking, Gafin endorsed a docent program comprising scientist/engineer retirees who can help with the recounting of the history of the space program here, etc. He also confirmed plans to visit similar learning centers such as the one in San Diego, say, to obtain ideas which could be applicable here. At the same time he cited the need for a more vigorous public relations program. But even if the center is incomplete, there's much, already in place, to recommend it to both child and adult alike. There's the rocket launcher, located at the very entrance of the gleaming building; the two-story soft landing payload exhibit; the airplane launcher; the B-13 flight simulator; and the robotics lab with a Lego Mission to Mars computer, not to mention the attractive mosaic on the wall as well as the history wall-all located on the first floor. On the second floor, the play space featuring 'living in space' and spacesuit experiences; a gravity scale; the shuttle simulator; the earth from space exhibit, and Lab 2, which provides entry to the biggest double-barreled attraction of them all-experiencing virtual mission control/space flight itself-all certain to titillate the senses.. Inquiries and visit requests from all over are on the rise, said Pearce. For instance, on July 9, a group of 9-12th graders are coming in from Santa Barbara. The center also hosts meetings and conferences, increasing exposure to wider and wider publics. Staffing is being beefed up. In addition to her and office manager Kaili Rowland, as well as six part-time staffers, Pearce said 20 volunteers (who have hurdled security checks) are coming to work starting June 25, anticipating the new, expanded hours of operation (Tue-Sat, 10-5). There will be two retiree volunteers as well, along with additional volunteers from Downey High and Arc. "Once the center is 100 percent complete, we'll be in a position to evaluate the whole program," said Pomrehn. "Then we can go forward."

********** Published: June 24, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 10