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Royal City Science proposes science centre for Puslinch gravel pit

A brick-and-mortar science centre has been a goal for Royal City Science since the charity started in November 2020

ABERFOYLE – Royal City Science has its eye on Puslinch to build a new science centre and create a "must-visit tourism destination" for southwestern Ontario. 

An idea years in the making, two Royal City Science co-founders Joanne O'Meara and the Great Orbax, a science communicator from the University of Guelph presented to Puslinch council Wednesday morning to share that the Mill Creek Pit on Concession 2 is the prime location for the proposed science centre – if they can get the owners, the University of Guelph, to agree to let them use the land. 

A brick-and-mortar science centre has been a goal for Royal City Science since they started the charity during the pandemic in November 2020. 

"When you think about all the major issues that are facing us today ... all of those issues require STEM-based discipline to be involved in finding the solutions," said O'Meara, during the meeting. "We need to be encouraging more of our youth to consider going into careers in the STEM disciplines to help find those solutions for generations to come ... (and) we believe that our communities deserve access to a place where citizens can play and explore and learn." 

Using the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals for reference, the proposed science centre would teach visitors about developments in different areas of science and provide hands-on STEM-based experiences. 

"Site agnostic," a design rendering for the centre would feature a theatre space with 200 capacity, a lobby and cafe with 300 capacity, hiking trails and a finished building showcasing sustainable design, site restoration and renewable energy usage. 

Southwestern Ontario residents currently have to drive to Toronto or Sudbury to visit a science centre. 

"You have this small window where science is magic to young people and it has that excitement, that future and then at some point, so many of our young students get turned off to it mostly just because they hit a brick wall somewhere," said Orbax. "Science centres are places where you can take away that brick wall and they can see all these things...and keep that magic going." 

O'Meara said it was like a "lightbulb went off" when the group realized they could rent and rehabilitate the existing pit when decommissioned in 2028 and turn the proposed science centre into a "living laboratory."

While the group believes the Mill Creek Pit is an ideal location for the proposed science centre because it's in the heart of the innovation corridor, the group said they'll move on to a new location if they can't reach an agreement with the university. 

The group is in talks with the University of Guelph to use the land, but while O'Meara said the school hasn't said no, it hasn't said yes. 

"You're not just going to a science centre in downtown Toronto. You're going to an experiment, you're witnessing the science involved in the rehabilitation, the rewilding of that site," said O'Meara. "It becomes the gold standard for what could happen to these locations once aggregate is finished extracting from there."

Despite his support for the pit, Mayor James Seeley asked the group to provide more information about septic, zoning, the surrounding gravel truck traffic and the potential impact on the Mill Creek. 

"It's making me a bit sick to my stomach that we may lose this opportunity due to indecision (from the University of Guelph)...(but) please don't give up. This needs to happen somewhere," said Seeley, during the meeting. 

Fifty six per cent of Royal City Science attendees are from Guelph, 19 and 11 per cent are from Toronto and the 905 region. 

Conservative estimate of 50,000 annual visitors and would attract $7.7 million in tourism spending and $4.5 million in economic output. 

The entire project is estimated to cost between $40 and $50 million and the group plans to obtain it through a mixture of grants, outside funding and programming. 

Pending financial support, the Royal City Science is currently focused on concept testing. 

Council moved to write a letter to the University of Guelph asking for a meeting between executives and township staff to discuss supporting the land proposal.

Isabel Buckmaster is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for GuelphToday. LJI is a federally-funded program.

About the Author: Isabel Buckmaster, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Isabel Buckmaster covers Wellington County under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
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