Castle Science and Technology Center exhibits donated

jsmith@mercedsunstar.comFebruary 26, 2013 

— The Castle Science and Technology Center in Atwater, which closed in August, recently donated its exhibits to several regional museums.

It's sad, but at least the exhibits are going to good use, said Dave Olsen, chairman of the Challenger Learning Center Foundation, the now-bankrupt nonprofit that ran the center.

"Everything has been donated at this point," Olsen said. "All the exhibits will find a new home somewhere. I'm sure some of our students will have the experience of visiting them in other museums."

Hundreds of thousands of dollars in exhibits are being moved to museums up and down the valley, Olsen said, including to Bakersfield, Visalia, Fresno, Oakhurst and Lodi.

One of the biggest exhibits, the $150,000 "Science on a Sphere," was returned to NASA, Olsen said. At the same time, the space flight simulator "Challenger Space Mission," will find a home at one of the nationally connected Challenger museums.

"I feel terrible seeing this torn apart," he said. "The program is gone and Merced County has lost a real tool for science education."

The Challenger foundation filed for bankruptcy after county officials stopped a $12,500 monthly payment to the nonprofit, which it had been receiving for years.

The nonprofit maintained it was entitled to the payment. County officials disagreed. The two entities were not able to reach a formal lease agreement for the property.

In August, the center closed permanently. "We are saddened, like many throughout the community, that Challenger faced the financial challenges it did," said Mark Hendrickson, the county's director of commerce, aviation and economic development. "It's not a happy day that they're in the process of disposing of their property."

The county owns the building and is looking to lease out the space, Hendrickson said. "We've had interest expressed by a number of different parties, including a call center and educationally focused organizations."

The nonprofit has no time limit on removing the exhibits, but the space should be empty by the end of the week, center officials said.

Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or jsmith@mercedsunstar.com.

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