Science centre president acknowledges need for change

The once barren atriums housed by the Telus Spark science centre have evolved into four popular interactive gallery spaces and a Creative Kids Museum over the course of a year. However, CEO and president Jennifer Martin insists the centre will continue to evolve in order to appease the community as time progresses.

Despite criticism from the community regarding high admission costs, and currently being under their projected attendance rate, Telus Spark will continue to move forward and give visitors their money’s worth.

“It really comes back down to that question of value, not price,” Martin said. ” If people spend three or four hours here, and they have their sleeves rolled up, and their kids are deep into some of the experiences, the value is there. (However,) we’re not knocking it out of the park for some individuals, and that’s a natural part of us learning and adjusting.”

The 153, 000-square-foot facility opened it’s doors as a replacement to the downtown location one year ago on Oct. 29, 2011.

Martin says that through trial and error, Telus Spark is able to rule out what Four-year-old Kurt MacKay plays an interactive computer game at the Being Human gallery at Telus Spark.

Photo by Haley Andersonpeople don’t have an emotional connection with, because from a sustainability standpoint, the facility is designed to evolve to the needs of the community.

It was suggested by Martin that “Failing often, and failing fast at the beginnings of things so that learning is really rapid, and investment is lower” was ideal at the beginning of this $160-million project. “If we don’t have everything 100 per cent to peoples interests right now. That’s okay,” she noted. “We can very quickly and cheaply make modifications.”

What has been accomplished this year?

Telus Spark has used this past year to step outside of the traditional science centre functionality and established what Martin considers an informal education role within the city.

“The biggest measure of success I have is when people are asking more questions, and are more curious when they leave than when they started their experience here,” Martin said. “What we have done in this shift from the basic interactive exhibit to a learning environment is really resonating well with people, and they become members for that reason.”

Though Martin admits that Telus Spark is currently under it’s projected 400,000 visitors, her estimate of 370,000 visitors so far this fiscal year still trumps the old locations recorded 322,000 in the 2010 annual report. However, the number of memberships sold has exceeded the center’s anticipated amount. Martin estimates around 23,000 memberships have been distributed over the past 12 months, a significant leap from the centers targeted 15,000.

Among these membership holders is Caroline Willmott, who recently moved to Calgary from Houston, TX and has since visited the centre four times.

Willmott explains that Telus Spark is unique in its appeal to a wide range of ages, making it an ideal destination for short bursts of time with her children.

“It’s really hands-on,” Willmott said. “It’s educational and the kids have fun each time we come.”

Unlike Willmott, Patricia Deausy had the opportunity to visit the old science centre downtown a couple of years ago and has noted significant differences between the two locations.

“There is a lot more hands-on stuff for the little guys,” Deausy said. “There is a lot more to keep their interest and keep them engaged.”

Though Deausy acknowledges the science center’s admission to be slightly over-priced for her family of four, she says the amount of activities they participate in while visiting the venue makes the experience valuable, and worth the expense.

“They seem to have different themes throughout the year, and I imagine that brings diverse people,” added Deausy. “There is something for everyone here.”

The Telus Spark science centre will be celebrating it’s one-year anniversary on Oct. 27 with Halloween-themed festivities, and announcing the centers first traveling exhibition scheduled to arrive in 2013.

handerson@cjournal.ca