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Sci-Bono Discovery Centre Print E-mail
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Sci-Bono centre

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HO could have predicted that the Electric Workshop in Newtown, built in 1906 to house the turbines for Joburg's tram system, would be transformed 100 years later into a world-class science centre with capacity for 650 000 visitors annually?

 The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, one of the city's most ambitious urban regeneration projects and the largest science exhibition centre on the continent, is aimed at promoting maths, science and technology education in the province. With school-goers as its major targets, the centre will promote careers in science, technology and engineering. An initiative of the national Department of Education, the Gauteng Department of Education, Blue IQ, and the Johannesburg Development Agency, the R150-million centre is being built in three phases. Phase one is near completion and parts of the centre will be open to the public on 17 March.

The end of the first phase will see the completion of 1 200m² of exhibition space; the exhibition hall - complete with ramps, lifts and staircases - temporary classrooms and laboratories, administrative offices, a coffee shop and a science shop.

The site is buzzing with activity as hundreds of workers pull out all the stops to get the centre ready for opening day. Already, the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre is an impressive site: the huge, light-filled spaces in the exhibition area are slowly being stocked with remarkable exhibits, such as a replica of the Patterson plane, the first plane to be flown in South Africa in 1911, which is suspended several metres above the ground. The nifty 1970s supersonic Cheetah jet will be hung alongside it.

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Replica of the Patterson plane

 According to development manager Richard Waller, the pervasive themes in the centre will be "where we come from, what we've achieved and where we're going to". An interesting-looking exhibition on loan from Ontario, Canada entitled "A Question of Truth" has already found a home in the vast exhibition space. The travelling exhibition, in English and Spanish, explores science from various cultural perspectives and debunks myths around western hegemony of scientific discovery.

Set for completion by early 2006, the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre will include two additional centres on both the east and the west side of the huge exhibition area. On the east side, a five-storey education centre is being built with classrooms, laboratories and basement parking. This centre will also house shops, restaurants, a VIP clubhouse for sponsors and investors and a sky lab on the roof. A glazed walkway will join the education centre with the exhibition centre. On the west side, a career centre and pre-school discovery centre are being built. An elaborate wave machine, made of steel, glass and aluminium, is being erected as a canopy at the front of the exhibition centre.

The initiative is being financed with R15-million seed capital and a loan from Gauteng province. However, investors, including Rand Water, Hulett-Packard, World Space, Mondi and Murray & Roberts, are lining up. BHP Billiton has donated R13,5-million to the initiative.

The investments will be money well spent on the all important goal of getting students to pursue careers in the skills-denuded areas of science and technology. "Internationally, interactive science discovery centres have been shown to be one of the most cost-effective and marketable methods of enhancing the communities' understanding of science and technology," reads a press release on the centre. "They are particularly effective in multi-lingual, multi-cultural countries, as they cater for learners at all stages of development and are also the most successful way of bringing children from historically disadvantaged communities into the digital age."

Inside the science centre
Inside the science centre

 Once completed the exhibition centre will contain 12 platforms at different levels, linked together by ramps, on which various interactive, curriculum-relevant exhibits will be placed. In true "discovery mode" most of the centre's own engine rooms will be exposed to viewers. The electrical workings and the administrative offices will be housed in glass and the underfloor cabling for heating will be visible through glass floor panels. Currently a huge firewall separates the vast exhibition centre into two sections. This will be removed once phase two of the project is completed.

Three key staff positions for the Sci-Bono Discovery Centre have recently been filled: Kelebogile Dilotsothle has been appointed chief executive officer; David Kramer, chief operating officer; and Hemant Waghmarae, business development director. Dilotsothle, who was a director in the national Department of Science and Technology for six years, is also an expert on the role science centres can play in an African setting and has presented many papers locally and internationally on the subject. Said Dilotsothle: "The Sci-Bono Discovery Centre will in the future make a significant contribution to Gauteng province becoming a global leader in science and technology. "This vision however can only be realised through robust public private partnerships which is top of my list of priorities for the next few months."

Kramer was vice-chair of the mathematics, science and technology special advisory committee to Gauteng's MEC for education and has written a book entitled "The OBE Teaching Toolbox". Waghmarae was divisional manager and project leader of the Quality Learning Project, a R140-million partnership project established by the Business Trust and the national Department of Education.

For more information go to www.sci-bono.co.za.

 


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