Fort Discovery closing, National Science Center leaving

Fort Discovery sign
Fort Discovery will close its doors December 31, and the National Science Center will move away from Augusta by September 2011. (October 19, 2010 / WRDW-TV)
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News 12 at 11 o'clock, Tuesday, October 19, 2010

AUGUSTA,Ga. --- The National Science Center is packing up and leaving town. Leaders say they are planning to relocate to Washington, D.C. by September 30, 2011.

Operations at Fort Discovery are scheduled to end on December 31.

The National Science Center's mission is to help students understand math and science in the real world.

Many knew it was moving, but no one expected it would be leaving Augusta. 15 part-time employees will lose their jobs, and the city of Augusta will lose a valuable asset.

"It was just a matter of time," said CEO Rob Dennis. "It just made sense."

After months and months of trying to decide whether to stay or go, there's finally a decision.

"I don't think this is big news to the city," Dennis said. "I think they've known for the past year that this building has been for sale."

Dennis says the decision to leave was an extremely tough one, considering just a year ago the push to remain open was the focus. But a tough economy forced layoffs and cutbacks, and there was no bouncing back.

"It's been in the works for a while," said Dennis. "A year ago we went to an abbreviated schedule, and we started looking at what options existed as far as our facilities."

Stacey Mabray, Science Curriculum Coordinator for the Richmond County Board of Education, says the school system had a valuable resource in their backyard. They depended on it for much of its outside learning.

"The fact that they're going to be closing is a big loss to the education community as well as the CSRA," said Mabray. "To go out into the field and actually go out and learn in mathematics and science...It's really really sad Fort Discovery is leaving, and we're going to have to find ways to augment those experiences in other ways."

Dennis said they even tried to work with the Augusta Commission for options to stay, but nothing seemed to pan out.

"We've worked with them on a couple of different initiatives," he said. "We'd provide partnerships, but none of those came to fruition."

Dennis says Augusta may not in the long-term plan for Fort Discovery to survive, but he says it's been an important part of the journey.

"If I said economics didn't play into this, that would be incorrect, "said Dennis. "We would love to stay in Augusta and we'd love to be successful in Augusta, but for the National Science Center to achieve this mission, Washington,D.C. is the ideal mission."

The Fort Discovery move will leave a big empty space on the Riverwalk. The 125,000 square feet building is listed for sale. The state of Georgia owns the majority of the items inside and the details are being worked out to determine what stays in Georgia.