All systems go for Cosmosphere expansion

Tuesday, April 19, 1988

The board of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center gave its development committee the go-ahead Monday to plan an expansion that will at least double the museum's size and allow it to run its popular space camp year-round.

``We have to expand, and we have to take care of the need,'' Thaine Woolsey, co-chairman of the development committee, told the assembled board. ``We have to have more capacity. We've got to get serious, now.''

The board voted unanimously to allow the committee to proceed, but executive director Max Ary stressed today that the decision was only a first step.

``That doesn't mean we automatically go out and break ground,'' Ary said. ``All it did was give the development committee the power to go to their next stage in their plans. That may be working with an architect to do some site selection, and really zero in on the options that we have.''

The museum, considered the most popular tourist attraction in Kansas, has long since outgrown its 35,000-square-foot building on the campus of Hutchinson Community College. Its series of summer ``space camps,'' fills up each year on the day of registration, and the Cosmosphere has leased two additional buildings to house construction and restoration work.

``We've just outgrown this building in every way shape (and) form,'' Ary said. ``We don't even have a library ... When it comes to much larger items, things like spacecraft, we're getting ourselves spread out all over town.''

Ary said the idea of an expansion has been kicked around nearly three years, but in the last few months a slate of eight options has been narrowed to three:

--Expand the present building as much as possible.

``We're rather limited, but we could probably do it,'' he said. ``We could go up, we could go out in several directions, possibly even down to some degree. The main thing that we come back then and start facing is parking.''

--Build a new free-standing building at one of two or three sites around Hutchinson, with enough space and parking to last the growing facility for 10 to 20 years.

Although Ary stressed that moving off the Hutchinson Community College campus was ``hypothetical,'' he expressed reservations about remaining in the current building.

``We could expand on our present facility here and spend less money up front, but down the line there's a possibility that all of our needs may not have been met,'' he said. ``The perfect situation would be to consolidate and get everything back under one roof again.''

--Expand the current building, then look for another site nearby to support a larger Future Astronaut Training Program.

Whichever option the board chooses will at least double the Cosmosphere's size.

``When you take into account the expanded exhibit areas, expanded areas to handle some of the people, offices, maybe a small library, some restoration facilities, and most important the space camp operation (with facilities) to handle a minimum of 60 students a week 40 weeks a year, we're talking at least twice the size of what we have now,'' Ary said.

The development committee will pick an option and flesh it out over the coming months with local architect Dale Dronberger, Ary said. Once it has a price tag, it will go back to the board for approval sometime during the summer.

``At that point I anticipate we would probably have a study done to see what the potential is for raising on a national and regional and local level the amount of money that we need. We all feel very strongly that we have enough national prominence now that we can very definitely extend our fund-raising out into the nation.''

Ary said he hopes to know whether such a fund-raising plan would work by the fall of this year, and if so be ready to proceed.

``The No. 1 thing we are doing here is to look down the line 10 to 20 years ... it appears the Cosmosphere is going to be an ever-growing situation, and we can't get ourselves into a situation where we are right now. We're up against a major problem here. We're needing to expand out, but at the same time the college enrollment is greatly expanding from year to year here, too.''

Ary said his ``fairy-tale situation'' would be a Cosmosphere on Hutchinson's hoped-for four-lane highway, with 200,000 square feet and a $10 million endowment. The endowment, at least, is something he plans to actively pursue.

``In this fund drive we conduct, as important as building is undoubtedly to get an endowment, to properly endow this facility for long-term operation and growth.''