Cosmosphere moves forward with revitalization

HUTCHINSON, Kansas — The Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center’s Governing Board approved a revitalization plan  June 16, with major emphasis on informal STEM education initiatives.

The master plan includes significant changes to the mission, programming, exhibits and building layout of the museum. The plan calls for completion in phases over five years, with an estimated total cost of $15 million. It also represents the first major capital improvements since 1997.

“Our community-based Revitalization Task Force (RTF) has dedicated countless hours over the past 10 months to developing a plan to make this facility even more inspirational to today’s and future generations,” said Jade Piros de Carvalho, Cosmosphere Governing Board Chair. “We are extremely excited about this plan, and know that the educational programming enhancements will broaden our ability to change lives, both locally and across the globe.”


A rendering of the revitalized museum

The Cosmosphere is moving forward with the following mission: “Inspiring innovation through science education and honoring the history of space exploration.”

The museum previously operated with a mission of “Honoring the past and inspiring the future of space exploration.”

Today’s mission represents a new era in the Cosmosphere’s history and reflects an increased focus on obtaining national and international visibility – especially for camp programs – creating curriculum-based informal science education experiences for school groups, and a need to rebrand and refocus one the country’s largest museums dedicated to space history into a center of international significance, officials said.

“The Cosmosphere can play an even more important role in encouraging students to pursue STEM studies and push the boundaries of their imagination,” said Dr. Steven A. Hawley, former NASA astronaut and Astronaut Advisor to the Cosmosphere. “This is a unique resource for the state of Kansas and the region, providing a one-of-a-kind learning laboratory for students and life-long learners.”  Hawley, a native Kansan, is a five-time shuttle astronaut, professor of Physics and Astronomy and Chair of Engineering Physics at the University of Kansas.

Dr. Ed Berger, retiring president of Hutchinson Community College, has accepted an engagement with the Cosmosphere as Chair of Revitalization Initiatives. He will work with Cosmosphere management to develop plans for each phase of the master plan, and collaborate with Cosmosphere leadership on the development of future informal education initiatives.

“To be part of the revitalization of an organization that is an international center for learning as well as a source of pride for Reno County and Kansas is truly exciting,” said Berger. “I look forward to communicating the mission and vision of the Cosmosphere and its role in STEM. The applied learning in science education, using lessons from space and space travel, is a unique opportunity and needs to be communicated not only regionally but nationally.”

“These changes are powerful representations of our commitment to reinventing the Cosmosphere,” said Richard Hollowell, Cosmosphere Chief Executive Officer. “We will remain a world-class museum telling the story of the Space Race in a way unlike anywhere else on Earth.  Our primary focus is – and has always been – inspiration. Our new mission and direction reflect our pledge to be a forward-looking, education-driven, relevant and current institution whose message and programming has an international reach while providing even higher value on a local and state-wide basis.” 

The revitalization effort started after the 50th anniversary celebration in 2012, as Cosmosphere leadership recognized that key changes had to take place. The Governing Board named the RTF, comprised of local leaders and Cosmosphere management, to analyze options for growth and programming. The RTF engaged expert museum planners and architects Verner Johnson Inc. (VJI) of Boston, Mass., in partnership with cultural economics firm Leisure Business Associates of Richmond, Va., to assist in developing the revitalization plan. Both firms bring decades of museum planning expertise to the process.

A report conducted by the University of Kansas’ (KU) Jayhawk Consulting team was presented at a meeting of the Cosmosphere’s Governing Board May 19. The team evaluated the Cosmosphere’s economic impact on the state of Kansas as a cultural and educational institution. The research was conducted to assist the RTF in evaluating the final report from VJI and assessing the value of revitalization before making a presentation to the Cosmosphere’s Governing and Foundation Boards.

The KU team reports that every $1 invested in the organization will yield almost $2 in return to the state of Kansas. This figure is based on a formula that is widely accepted and used by a variety of research agencies, including the State of Kansas.

Additionally, the report attributes the institution with bringing $103 million in tourism dollars annually to the state of Kansas, with major impacts in the following areas:

  • $103M in direct and indirect economic contributions
  • $13.1M in federal tax yield
  • $14.1M in state and local tax yield

The impact is attributed not only to money spent at the Cosmosphere, but to everything visitors do in the state of Kansas while on a trip to the space museum – visitors who hail primarily from the state of Kansas, but also travel from all across the country and even internationally to visit the Cosmosphere. These things include attending other museums or attractions, lodging in hotels, food and beverage services, automotive repair and maintenance, business support services, and other retail outlets visited during the trip. Also included in the economic impact is employment related directly to revenue the Cosmosphere brings to the state. The report estimated that the facility directly and indirectly supports the employment of 2,200 people. These employees, in turn, have a collective purchasing power of $70 million.

VJI research indicated that science museums traditionally provide educational programs directed at inspiring and engaging young participants, building interest in science in order to motivate them to seek further education. At present, more than 15,000 students take field trips to the Cosmosphere annually, and the STEM-based camp program has more than 17,000 graduates to date.

While Cosmosphere education programs have included a STEM component, Cosmosphere leadership felt that STEM initiatives needed to be strengthened and new STEM related programs created.  The Cosmosphere has the ability, against the backdrop of a world-class collection of artifacts and space science exhibits, to collaborate with educators, administrators and field experts in the development of content-rich STEM programs. The approved revitalization plan for education, focused first on STEM concepts and secondarily on tactics that make the learning process captivating, provides an excellent resource for the state of Kansas and the region, and benefits visiting students from around the world.

Brad Nederhoff, VJI’s Managing Principal, states, “Revitalization of the Cosmosphere’s physical facilities is critical to opening new opportunities for improving and expanding public programs and exhibits. Our overall approach for physical improvements focused on adding and improving the most needed components within the existing building enclosure. This is a highly cost-effective approach that will significantly enhance the Cosmosphere’s long-term financial sustainability.”

Current, relevant, constantly changing displays will educate visitors about what is happening right now in the world of space exploration. The creation of dedicated areas within the Cosmosphere’s building that offer updated, relevant, interactive experiences for visitors – specifically young children (8 years and younger) –  will make return visits fresh and rewarding. Older explorers will have the opportunity to get up close and personal with a variety of innovative technology subjects, connecting hands-on experiences with real-life applications in promising career fields.

Revitalization of existing galleries in the Hall of Space Museum is also addressed in the overall concept, and the Cosmosphere will update the look and content of these galleries to include immersive areas, combining historic artifacts with multimedia techniques, and refreshing the overall museum experience for visitors.

The Smithsonian-affiliated Cosmosphere houses the largest collection of U.S. and Russian space artifacts in the world.  The Cosmosphere’s mission is: Inspiring innovation through science education and honoring the history of space exploration. Camp KAOS, the Cosmosphere’s summer camp program for students entering second grade through high school, is dedicated to inspiring explorers of all ages using STEM principles and building leadership and teamwork skills.

The SpaceWorks division has an international reputation for historic artifact preservation, replication and exhibit design. SpaceWorks has completed projects for NASA, the Smithsonian, and Hollywood films, including Ron Howard’s Apollo 13and the HBO Miniseries From Earth to the Moon.

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