Just five years after it opened, the Connecticut Science Center in Hartford is scheduled to get an additional $4 million state grant this week to launch an ambitious 10-year plan to expand and upgrade the center’s exhibits and facilities.
State officials said some of the center’s expansion plans include creating more educational lab space, transforming one portion of the existing building into a greenhouse and butterfly conservatory, and paying off debts relating to the center’s heating, cooling and ventilation systems.
The additional funding for the heating and cooling system drew questions from two Republican senators, L. Scott Frantz of Greenwich and Rob Kane of Watertown. They wrote to Gov. Dannel Malloy this week asking for more information about why money was needed for a heating and cooling system that was only five years old.
The new money is part of a $10.5 million bond authorization for the project approved by the 2014 General Assembly. State officials say the science center’s staff also expects to raise another $3.5 million to $5 million to help pay for the expansion.
“It’s the first step in a longer-range plan,” said GianCarl Casa, a spokesman for the state’s Office of Policy and Management.
Casa said about $2.1 million of the new grant will be used to pay off debts on the center’s existing heating, cooling and ventilation system, and the rest of the $4 million will go toward design, development and installation of new exhibits.
The state Bond Commission is expected to approve the $4 million bond grant at its meeting Friday.
Franz and Kane said Thursday they have no problems with additional state funding to upgrade and expand exhibits at the science center. “I love the Connecticut Science Center,” Franz said. “I’m not looking to give them a hard time at all.”
But Kane said he still wants to know why money the state has borrowed – which will cost taxpayers interest payments – is being used to retire existing debts on the heating and ventilation system.
“Why are there those outstanding debts?” Kane asked.
The center was built using more than $124 million in state funding and another $40 million-plus in private contributions. It opened in 2009, and now has 300,000 visitors annually.
State taxpayers continue to subsidize the science center to the tune of nearly $600,000 a year.
Just last year, the center settled a multi-year, $10 million lawsuit against Cesar Pelli and Associates, the designer of the science center building, and several contractors. Major problems were encountered in construction of the center’s iconic “magic carpet” roof, which delayed the center’s opening by 18 months.
Science center officials said details of the negotiated settlement are confidential.