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Sedgwick County approves 5-year funding agreement with Exploration Place

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, at 10:21 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, at 3:53 p.m.

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A five-year funding agreement with Exploration Place that Sedgwick County commissions approved Wednesday will give the discovery and science center more than $11.4 million through 2018.

“It’s marvelous news. It’s a real vote of confidence of our partnership with the county,” Exploration Place president Jan Luth said after the vote Wednesday. “Now we know where we stand for the next five years.”

The financial security will help the iconic center on the Arkansas River go in a “forward motion as an organization,” she said. “The beauty of this support from the county is that it really enables us to focus on our future and not just surviving today. We’re thrilled.”

Commissioner Richard Ranzau voted against the plan, saying that the county is not in a position to make long-term financial commitments and that it has bigger priorities. He was the lone vote “no.” He also recently voted against a similar funding agreement with the Sedgwick County Zoo, making the same argument about financial uncertainty.

“We have to establish priorities and stick to them,” Ranzau said.

He also noted that the science center was initially planned to be self-sustaining and not operate with taxpayer money. It struggled in its first years, and the county stepped in to help.

“I understand that we would like for this to be self-sustaining,” Commissioner Tim Norton countered.

But Norton said the museum had turned itself around under Luth’s and the board’s leadership and was “beloved” by residents of the community.

Commissioner Dave Unruh said Exploration Place seemed to have hit its stride.

The county had cut funding to Exploration Place – and the zoo – in recent years because of the down economy, and the zoo and science museum had been operating without long-term funding agreements. The 13-year-old science center has lost about $400,000 in county funding since 2009, Luth said earlier.

The agreement calls for more than $2.2 million each year in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and just more than $2.3 million each year in 2017 and 2018.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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