THE SCIENCE PLACE: IS THAT ALL THERE IS?

DALLAS-If you’ve ventured near Fair Park in the past few months, it’s likely you didn’t recognize the place. Streets are torn up, mounds of dirt block entrances, and things are generally in a state of pandemonium. All the activity is aimed at putting a pretty face on the aging buildings and park grounds before the Cotton Bowl kicks off the Texas Sesquicentennial celebration on January 1. The historic park, built in 1936 for the Texas Centennial, is expected to draw millions of visitors next year.

Unfortunately, the long-awaited expansion of The Science Place into the old Dallas Museum of Fine Arts building won’t be part of the sprucing-up package, as was first planned. Museum officials say that plan is on hold indefinitely until a new director is hired. The Science Place has been without a director for more than a year, and the museum’s staff and board of directors think it would be a serious mistake to continue with expansion plans before the dynamic director they are seeking is found.

Despite those plans, museum docents fear that waiting until a director is hired will damage the museum’s image, which is already less than exciting. But interim director Peggy Oglesby says that the current image isn’t altogether accurate or fair. Sure, she says, the exhibits and signs may be worn, nicked and a little crowded, but they are fun, and that’s why, she believes, people keep coming back. Attendance at The Science Place has not dropped off, she says.

Among the exhibits are the gravity machine, the gerbil that lives inside an aquarium, the windmill exhibits, a giant geode, drilling-for-oil video games, the first solar airplane and “the only full-sized transparent couple” in the country (their clear plastic skin shows all their working parts). You might recognize the voices of the couple as KVIL radio personalities Ron Chapman and Suzie Humphries. One-of-a-kind exhibits that The Science Place has had for some time are its models of a baby being delivered, a very graphic series showing an appendectomy being performed and a “drug” room that includes everything from a venereal disease true/false quiz to a video rap session with former Dallas Cowboy Butch Johnson. It is fun, but it’s only natural to expect something spectacular from a museum that changed its name in

1981 from the Dallas Health andScience Museum to the Southwestern Museum of Science andTechnology. And despite the impressive names on its board oftrustees roster, the museumitself is not particularly impressive; much more needs to bedone. Board members includeTrammell S. Crow, Walter J.Humann, George Shafer andseveral prominent educators andphysicians. The museum did geta needed boost of confidence in

1982 when Dallas voters approved $1.5 million in bondmonies for the long-overdueexpansion.

That optimistic outlook was clouded early last year when former museum director Linda Lewis left after five years. Oglesby says the departure was amicable, but one board member says that Lewis just wasn’t the person the museum needed to take it into the 21st century. The search for a new director was taken up by Ward Howell International Inc., a Dallasbased executive search firm.

Ideally, Oglesby says, the new Science Place will open its doors to the public in October 1986- just in time for the extended State Fair celebration. Oglesby says, “If we get to a point where we can’t open by fall ’86, then the staff and I will go ahead with expansion plans. But I don’t think it is the best idea. We need the person who is going to take this into the future working with us. But if push comes to shove, we’ll just do it ourselves.”

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