Kansas City-based engineering powerhouse Burns & McDonnell and Science City on Thursday announced a multimillion-dollar partnership that includes a name change and at least two more Battle of the Brains student competitions.
The new “Science City Powered by Burns & McDonnell” was celebrated with a “geek wedding reception” that included a giant cake, indoor fireworks and toasts with test tubes. That was a nod to the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) focus of Science City.
“We’ve been big believers in making our community stronger in the STEM field,” said Burns & McDonnell Chairman and CEO Ray Kowalik. “It’s good for Kansas City, good for Burns & McDonnell and good in general because the good jobs are almost all in the STEM fields.”
The partnership is structured to last at least five years. It specifically includes:
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▪ A public celebration from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday in which the first 2,000 visitors to Science City will be admitted for $3.14, an allusion to the mathematical value of pi.
▪ Burns & McDonnell commitment to two more Battle of the Brains competitions for K-12 students across the region, with the winning concept of each being turned into a $1 million permanent exhibit for the science center.
▪ Burns & McDonnell will also foot the bill for one school field trip per week to Science City during the school year.
▪ Internships with the engineering firm will be offered to Battle of the Brains contestants.
▪ Burns & McDonnell professionals will enrich Science City’s summer camp and will provide talks and demonstrations at the science center.
▪ The engineering company will also assist with maintenance costs to keep the exhibits at Science City in working condition.
That’s important given that Science City, after opening in 1999, was awash in criticism that many exhibits didn’t work. Kowalik said he had that experience personally when taking his own daughter to the science center.
Union Station CEO George Guastello recalls that, a decade ago, station officials were advised by a consultant to close the troubled science center, do a complete overhaul and change the name.
Instead, Burns & McDonnell began investing in Science City with a robotics lab in 2008 called the Engineerium. Then came Science on a Sphere and other projects.
There have been four Battle of the Brains competitions so far, with ever-increasing participation. The winning entries, all having to do with STEM fields, have led to four new exhibits at Science City. A fifth is expected to open next spring.
In all, Burns & McDonnell has made contributions to Science City worth more than $8 million so far. The results, Guastello said, have proved the consultant wrong.
Attendance at Science City is projected to be 300,000 this year, more than double what it was a few years ago. And Science City has earned a visitor experience award from the international Association of Science-Technology Centers.
Science City is focusing on early childhood learning with a $4 million grant from the Hall Family Foundation and a $1 million grant from the PNC Foundation.
Guastello said progress at Science City can be traced back to the engineering firm’s decision, under former chairman and CEO Greg Graves, to become engaged with the science center.
“If Burns & McDonnell did not do what they did 10 years ago you would not be seeing the early learning programs,” Guastello said.