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Case Study

Building a Science Center From the Ground Up


Photo: Children from a local Summer Camp experiment with an exhibit.
Children from a local Summer Camp experiment with an exhibit.

In 2011, as a result of the Base Realignment Act of 2005, The Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) was closed and moved to Fort Lee, Virginia. With it went much of the story and attendant artifacts related to the 100-year history of the work that took place at APG and in northeastern Maryland. The community was devastated by this loss and determined to come up with a replacement.

At the same time in Northeastern Maryland, there was a significant gap in informal STEM education. While there were many afterschool and informal STEM learning opportunities through clubs and scouts, none provided the year-round opportunities for science and technology learning and exposure to STEM professionals and activities that the community desired. Additionally, like in many communities, many students failed to pursue STEM subjects beyond minimum graduation requirements. This put them at a distinct disadvantage in higher education and career. A facility dedicated to lighting the spark of discovery in students, giving them the opportunity to explore, create, and play with science and technology was the solution.

A group of like-minded community leaders formed a non-profit dedicated to building a discovery center focused on technology developed at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. Because the organization was all-volunteer, the Board of Directors recognized that it needed contractual support to provide subject matter expertise in strategic planning, development, communications, and exhibit development. Profile Partners was hired.


At the outset, it was clear that the organization needed to build a broader and stronger foundation for its growth. After all, the vision for the Discovery Center at Water’s Edge is that it will be a major Mid-Atlantic tourist attraction and will require many millions of dollars to build and sustain. We needed to expand the board and create champions in the community to move the project forward. But first we needed a communications infrastructure in place that communicated our vision. Profile Partners created a trifold brochure, a PowerPoint template, a web site, social media presence, posters, videos, and a display that explained the center’s concept. Knowing that the promotional material was likely to change as the concept evolved, the brochures were printed on demand in small batches. These materials were used to complete one of the most important first steps for the Discovery Center — recruiting new board members and committee volunteers.

Next, Profile developed a floorplan based on similar science centers in other regions. From this we were able to calculate approximate start up and sustainment costs. These numbers formed a basis for funding requests from government grants or corporate sponsorships. We then developed a detailed five-year income and expense model and business plan based on a three-phase approach that started with a Preview Center (phase 1) to a 10,000 SF Center (phase 2), to a 35,000 full-scale facility (Phase 3).

Over the next five years, Profile Partners was instrumental in creating a common vision, focus, and scope for the Discovery Center among board members, funders, and community leaders, and bringing the concept of a science center, that started as a stock image and a generic floorplan, to life. This included bringing outside experts to the table at the right time to include a research firm that performed a feasibility study, a national exhibit design firm that created and constructed exhibits, and temporary staffing of key positions.


As of this writing, Phase 1 of the Discovery Center is completed, and the Preview Center has opened. Additionally, a project manager and an executive director were hired. As of this writing, we are working with the organization to develop revenue streams to fund Phase 2, which will cost approximately $4.5 million, and to help build the foundation for expansion into a fully operating science center.

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