CITIZEN Museum Series - Discovery Science center

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By Rog Patterson

If your mind’s eye visualizes Marion County museums as being repositories of the old, the sacred and the elegant stuff, this next candidate will probably need some flexing of your preconceived notions.

This Marion County museum candidate has literally been a moving target, too. Since we moved to Ocala in 1997, The Discovery Science Center has jumped from downtown Ocala on “down south” to Brick City Park and “up north” last fall into the old Armory building at Tuscawilla Park.

The Discovery Science Center’s mission is to “engage minds and bodies” of our younger folks by introducing them to our environment, arts and sciences in ways that pique their curiosity into wanting to know more. And, according to Director of Ocala Recreation and Parks Kathy Crile their recent move from Brick City Park into the former Armory building at Tuscawilla Park will be a giant step towards closing in on that goal.

But, instead of displaying old, sacred or even elegant stuff, visitors will soon discover displays explaining our universe, our environment and how such things effect our lives in exciting and mind tingling ways. It might even be considered a museum of younger stuff for a younger audience…like your children or, if you’re my age, their children.

Looking back a bit, the Discovery Science Center (DSC) was originally housed in the historic Ocala Theater on South Magnolia Avenue. That building had been donated to the City some 23 years ago and was rehabbed by funds from an Historic Preservation Grant from Florida’s State Division of Cultural Affairs for the science center’s needs.

Efforts to contribute towards revitalization of downtown Ocala prompted Central Florida Community College (CFCC) to become a partner with both DSC and Brick City Center for the Arts (BCCA), with promotion of arts and sciences a secondary motive. (Whether you like acronyms or not, we’ll need a few more yet to come.) CFCC arranged to have DSC moved under the aegis of Ocala Arts and Sciences Coalition (OASC), which not only promoted the arts and sciences but was also active in raising necessary financial support. At that point, the City’s role was providing the theater building and adding $50,000 a year in OASC support.

Then, in 2000, CFCC turned the entire DSC operation over to the City of Ocala to be continued as a member of the Recreation and Parks Department (ORPD) inventory of 29 public facilities. That’s when the DSC was moved to Marion County-owned Brick City Park out on Lake Weir Road. They stayed there for five years, but the County really had in mind reinventing the park with emphasis on outdoor adventure-oriented programs.

Which is most likely why I didn’t find DSC still at Brick City Park when I drove in expecting to pay it a visit earlier this year. Because the whole shebang had been relocated to Tuscawilla Park last September. While the old Armory had become better known over the years as the Tuscawilla Youth Center, that program had been attracting fewer and fewer participants and folks at ORPD felt the DSC would make better use of the building.

It’s actually on N.E. Sanchesz Avenue but, since that’s a one-way, I suggest going on along East Silver Springs Boulevard and turn left to N.E. 8th Avenue, keep going just beyond the water tower, turn left again on NE 9th Street and a final left on N.E. Sanchez. There’s the Discovery Science Center on your left. You can park across the street or turn in by the Apollo space capsule to park behind the building.

So .… what’s ahead for DSC? We learned more displays are in the works, many nature-based and mostly portable so they can be taken to schools or used in field displays, as well as static placement in the new facilities. After experiencing outside sources of display design and construction, Crile said they are leaning towards more in-house skills of staff and volunteers for future needs. “They can do such a great job and help our budget dollars go that much further.” she said.

Another intriguing creative source are the University of Florida’s architectural students, whose skills have been channeled towards designing proposals for both interior and exterior modifications of the Armory building to optimize space, utility and function. Over 20 of their renovation proposals will be on display during ORPD’s planned DSC Grand Opening ceremonies on May 23. Meanwhile, volunteer employees from Home Depot have already descended upon the Armory with their buckets of paint and brushes to transform the decor from grim to grand.

As Kathy Crile says, “It’s a wonderful time to be in the middle of this exciting rebirth of the Discovery Science Center. I’m hoping your S.R. 200 Corridor readers will come by to take a look at what has been accomplished and share our excitement of engaging minds and bodies.”