More than 60 area residents got a chance Monday night to hear about, discuss and try out the concept of a community science center in Homewood.
The meeting, sponsored by the Village of Homewood at Ravisloe Country Club, brought together people who signed up to learn more about the proposed science center, which is slated to be developed in the former Ryan Funeral Home, purchased by the village in December.
One of the best outcomes of the event was just getting those people in the same room, according to project manager Rachael Jones.
“We formed a new community in town,” she said. “The people who came here are people who are passionate about science exploration. Now we’ve got a community, and I know it will grow.”
The evening began with an introduction by Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld, who offered a brief summary of the science center idea, which began about five years ago as village officials began searching for a project that would help revitalize the downtown area.
He said the village leadership fully supports the idea of developing a science center.
“We’re committed to this project,” he said. “And now it’s your turn. Your involvement and dedication will make it work. We are Homewood, and we will make it happen.”
Hofeld turned the podium over to village Trustee Jay Heiferman, who has been the board’s liaison to the project. Heiferman introduced two representatives from the Exploratorium in San Fransisco, Bill Booth and Hashim Anderson. The Exploratorium was hired by the village to help guide the development of the project.
To get things started, they asked small groups at each table to briefly discuss larger community issues that provide the context in which the science center will emerge.
Some tables discussed the broader question of what kind of community people want Homewood to be, but others began delving into the question of what kind of science center people would like to see.
The most common concern expressed seemed to pertain to sustainability of the project.
Kelly McKeever, a psychologist at Adler University, asked for clarification about the science center’s operations and how it would support itself.
“I’m trying to visualize what this will look like,” she said. “Is this something the park district will have to continue? I’m not really clear what the business plan will be.”
Booth, of the Exploratorium, said her questions were key to the stage the project is currently in, and the answers would depend on what the community wants the center to be and what resources can be devoted to it.
“That’s why we’re here to listen, to hear your aspirations.” he said.
But he noted the key to sustainability would be community participation in shaping the center and commitment to keep it going.
Another participant asked Booth, “Why Homewood?”
He said communities with Homewood’s size and characteristics are well suited for science centers. He noted that big centers like the Exploratorium in San Fransisco or the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) in Chicago have national reach but often struggle to make deep connections in their immediate communities.
“A community-based science center is something that is created by and used by and composed of the whole community,” he said. “It takes advantage of the experience of people here.”
Consultant Anderson described Helix, a community science center developed by Exploratorium in Los Altos, California, as a test case for the concept.
He said the project lasted about one year, and in the process, the Exploratorium learned a number of things about community science centers.
Although it didn’t outlast its initial funding, he said it could serve as a model for sustainability because it included retail space that generated some revenue, offering science-related products.
One thing it demonstrated, he said, was the possibilities for integration in the community. Helix had teens on staff as “explainers,” offered professional development opportunities for local teachers, helped local schools by developing exhibits and activities that supported education standards, hosted field trips for students and became a social gathering place for families.
Booth said he initially described Helix as a place people could spend a whole day learning and having fun — similar to places like MSI — but what he discovered was that people really wanted a place they could visit briefly and often.
To demonstrate the kind of activity people might enjoy at a science center, Booth and Anderson directed participants to materials on their table: a small motor, batteries, plastic cups, rubber bands, pipe cleaners, tongue depressors and markers.
“The goal is to make something that moves,” Booth said. “The challenge is to see if you can put a marker on it to trace the path it moves.”
The hands-on activity produced a good deal of discussion, some collaboration, some laughter, a little competition and a wide variety of designs for little plastic roboty things that scooted across paper-covered tables, leaving colorful magic marker trails in their wakes.
The process continued Tuesday with a similar event for local taxing agency representatives — school districts 153, 161 and 233, H-F Park District and Homewood and Flossmoor public libraries — followed in the evening by the first meeting of a group of key stakeholders who will help shape the project and deal with details.
The stakeholder group includes Irv Anderson, Homewood; Rita Davenport, Homewood; Mike Dominick, Homewood; Amanda Gerardy, Schaumburg; Pamela Guimond, Crete; Betsy Soehren-Jones, Homewood; Barry Latham, Homewood; Nathan Legardy, Flossmoor.
They bring science, engineering, technology and business experience to the project and together will serve as an advisory group, Jones said.
“They are going to be creating the actual experience objectives, refining ideas, getting to details like funding, operation, eventually to exhibit selection,” Jones said.
Jones said the first meeting was a success upon which she plans to build, having more events that she hopes will attract families. Her goal is to give more people a taste of what a science center can be and to get more ideas about what people want Homewood’s science center to be.
She also plans to start integrating science activities into Homewood’s coming community events.
“We’re managing the concept right now — making it Homewood,” she said.
Jones is encouraging anyone in the area with questions or ideas about the community science center to post online using #homewoodsciencecenter tag or visit www.facebook.com/homewoodsciencecenter.
Homewood trustees OK pursuit of science center development, agree to purchase Ryan’s Funeral Home (HF Chronicle, Dec. 23, 2014)
Homewood community science center project moves forward (HF Chronicle, Feb. 11, 2015)
Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]