A zipline is not just a zipline, and a merry-go-round is more than just a merry-go-round at Science City’s first outdoor exhibit, opening at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Union Station.
They and other play stations also serve to illustrate the power of simple machines, such as the inclined plane and the wheel.
That’s the inspiration that led nine students from Lee’s Summit’s Mason Elementary School who beat out more than 500 entries from 210 schools in winning the third Battle of the Brains competition. On Tuesday, they will arrive at Union Station in a limousine and get to see their work realized in a $1 million exhibit built by Burns & McDonnell.
“You’re teaching them engineering principles while they’re playing,” said company CEO Ray Kowalik as he and Union Station CEO George Guastello recently acted like kids themselves and took a shot at the interactive stations.
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The exhibit, called Simple Machines at Play, sits adjacent to a new events space between Science City and the parking garage on the northwest side of Union Station. It extends life to a formerly underused area and is part of an expansion project that also included a vehicle and pedestrian bridge linking Pershing Road to the top level of the garage.
Next will be a new “outer space portal” linking Science City to the planetarium in early June and a new entrance to the science center for school groups in time for the new school year.
“The pieces are now all coming together,” Guastello said.
The playground exhibit includes a screw slide and a three-story climbing structure that offers a bird’s-eye view of the simple machines, as well as the still-active railbed and the city beyond.
“I hope that when families come and they see other kids out here playing, it’s going to get them instantly excited to go into the science center,” Kowalik said. “The kids are going to run into Science City.”
The Mason Elementary students, led by teacher Jenny Reidlinger, also won $50,000 for their school. They decided to use some of that money to install a duplicate of one of the simple machine play stations, the merry-go-round, at their school.
The Burns & McDonnell Foundation has invested nearly $6 million in the science center over the last nine years. The goal is to encourage kids to become interested in science, technology, engineering and math. The company has sponsored three rounds of the Battle of the Brains, each of which has seen new exhibits built based on winning entries.
“The first set of kids were at Olathe North High School, and they are graduating college now,” Kowalik said. “Many of them are in the STEM fields.”