Two sources close to the editorial board – an 11-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy – sampled the new Mobius Science Center in downtown Spokane and declared it “cool.”
Little did they know that before they were born – 1995 to be exact – Spokane voters turned down a plan to have a large-scale center in Riverfront Park operated by the Pacific Science Center of Seattle. That vote, preceded by relentless nitpicking, drove away the city’s best chance. Fortunately, proponents refused to relinquish the idea, though they faced many hurdles.
In 1999, voters passed a bond issue to buy land on the north bank of the Spokane River for a possible science center. Soon after, a 115,000-square-foot leviathan was proposed, but fundraising realities and other issues dashed that dream. A scaled-back, 45,000-square-foot facility also proved to be too ambitious, as the Great Recession caused science center plans to recede.
In the meantime, science center proponents merged with Mobius Kids, a science facility for tykes, and ultimately hatched a workable plan to renovate the former J.C. Penney building at Main Avenue and Lincoln Street. The site is owned by Cowles Co., owner of The Spokesman-Review. Last Friday, the center opened its doors to the public. The official grand opening is set for Sept. 8, when a renovated Mobius Kids will also be unveiled in the basement of River Park Square.
Mobius Science Center is a sleek, professionally designed facility. It has the feel of first-rate science centers but on a smaller scale. Meanwhile, the long-in-the-tooth Riverfront Park carnival attractions preserved by that “no” vote of 17 years ago are still cranking out rides. When informed of that election, our young science center reviewers were perplexed.
In any event, they spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon engrossed in Mobius exhibits. The girl dominated Mindball, a tug-of-war-style game in which competitors try to advance a marble-size ball using brain waves. The boy, who wants to be an engineer, was drawn to the hydropower display. Their father was reminded at an exhibit called Jump Time that he’ll never have “mad hops.” To drive home the humiliation, a camera records the attempts and offers comparisons to famous people who actually can elevate.
The Sound Cube was another favorite. Participants become musicians by manipulating the circular patterns on a tabletop tablet. You can even “steal” music from those next to you, which ought to intrigue prospective hip-hop samplers.
Our reviewers didn’t get a chance to handle the computerized corpse in the Anatomy Visualization exhibit, but it’s clear that this will fascinate future surgeons.
The new science center ought to be a hit as long as it’s able to keep exhibits fresh and in good repair. The key to that will be community support. We can already see it becoming a popular destination for school field trips.
We congratulate those who had the vision and tenacity to stick with this nearly 20-year odyssey. It took a lot of faith to deliver a center of science.
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