Math & science center unveils plans for new facility

Administrators of a Grand Valley center that for more than a decade has helped educate youth about math and science concepts have announced plans to build a new, free-standing facility in Fruita.

The John McConnell Math & Science Center will be located adjacent to the Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey. Locating the museum and center on the same property is expected to create a campus offering  a more comprehensive science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) program as well as an attraction for the Grand Valley.

“Our board has deliberated carefully, done a lot of research and concluded that the Grand Valley is ready to support a deeper math, science and technology experience, and we’re ready to provide that,” said Teresa Coons, executive director of the center. “We’re especially excited about the synergy that a museum campus can provide, with new opportunities for collaborative programs and shared facilities.”

Peter Booth, executive director of the Museum of Western Colorado agreed. “We look forward to working with Teresa, the center and its board to further develop the concept of a museum and educational campus.”

Fruita City Manager Clint Kinney also praised the effort. “The City of Fruita, as the current owner of the property, is very happy to be a strong partner in this project.”

The project will begin with the help of architectural, engineering and bid services supplied by students and faculty at Western Colorado Community College in Grand Junction and University of Colorado Denver

John McConnell, a retired physicist with a passion for demonstrating math and science concepts to children, founded the center in 1999. Since 2000, Mesa County School District 51 has hosted the center at New Emerson School in Grand Junction.

John Hopkins, chairman of the center board, said more space is needed. “We’re being limited by space both inside and out. More space significantly improves a deeply enriched experience in core STEM programming for all of Western Colorado. It’s really exciting.”

Coons said the location next to Dinosaur Journey offers many advantages. “Dinosaur Journey is already attracting 40,000 visitors per year, not including school groups, and the math & science center has a long history of providing educational opportunities to students, teachers and families from across the Western Slope. Giving kids, educators, and visitors the opportunity to encounter a richer experience from our co-located facilities and collaborative programming will be a tremendous benefit to the market area we serve.”

Both the John McConnell Math & Science Center and Dinosaur Journey draw visitors from throughout Western Colorado and beyond.

Other factors involved in the location selection included direct access to Interstate Highway 70 as well as proximity to a welcome center, state wildlife areas and the Colorado National Monument.

“Both entities will remain independent organizations, but the opportunities for prospective shared facilities and programs will allow both of us to accomplish more with our resources,” Coons said. “The math & science center’s new facility is planned to be as energy efficient as possible and incorporate high-tech features that can largely be shared. Combined educational programming will allow the most efficient use of each organization’s expertise and even pragmatic concerns such as shared theater and gift centers have been discussed.”