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Poulsbo Marine Science Center reopens May 14

Lab director Ralph St. Andre works with students performing a salinity test at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center, in 2009. Students visited and ran the gamut of experiments in the new floating lab: From left, Trenna McDaniel, Tristin Bugge, parent volunteer Sharley Schmitt, Joel Trousdales and Orion Reidel.                                                         - Brad Camp / Herald file photo
Lab director Ralph St. Andre works with students performing a salinity test at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center, in 2009. Students visited and ran the gamut of experiments in the new floating lab: From left, Trenna McDaniel, Tristin Bugge, parent volunteer Sharley Schmitt, Joel Trousdales and Orion Reidel.
— image credit: Brad Camp / Herald file photo

POULSBO — The Poulsbo Marine Science Center will reopen May 14 at 10 a.m., its director said Wednesday.

The center, overlooking Liberty Bay, has been closed since Nov. 29, when a frozen sprinkler pipe burst and flooded the building. Sealaska Environmental Services, which leases the second floor, moved temporarily to the city’s former public works administration office. Poulsbo Finance Director Debbie Booher said the repairs are expected to cost about $150,000 and will be covered by the city’s insurance policy.

“I can hardly wait,” Aquarium Director Patrick Mus said of the impending opening. “I’m constantly getting phone calls and emails. I’d like to get it open.”

The City of Poulsbo owns the downtown property and building; the Poulsbo Marine Science Foundation leases the building for free and  subleases

the second floor to Sealaska. City officials are negotiating with the foundation for a portion of the center’s revenue, to be used for maintenance of the building. The foundation has offered the city $15,000 toward its final $30,000 debt payment on the property, in exchange for a renewed lease.

Mayor Becky Erickson said she and foundation officials will meet again next week. She wants the city and foundation to share the rental income — Sealaska pays $40,000 a year, she said — with the city’s share going into a site maintenance fund.

Erickson said significant repairs are needed, including a new heating and cooling system, that over the next three years will cost the city $180,000.

In a previous interview, foundation president Bruce Harlow, a retired Navy rear admiral, said the foundation has secured funding for operations for at least another five years but would not make the $15,000 payment if the lease is not renewed.

“We have the wherewithal and the plan to make it work,” Harlow said in the earlier interview. “It’s good for the city and good for the businesses.”

The center has weathered several storms since it was conceived. In the 1980s, local teacher Clayton Ham brought the Seattle-based Marine Science Society to Poulsbo, and the society operated a marine science center at Liberty Bay Marina. In 1990, it moved to its present location, which was built with a $650,000 bond issued to the Poulsbo Public Development Authority.  Booher said the society paid the city about $1,000 a month rent, and the North Kitsap School District rented space in the center and provided marine science education there. Kitsap County also contributes funding to the center, which it views as being a benefit to the public.

The bond was refinanced in 2002 when the development authority was dissolved, and the city took ownership of the debt. But the school district pulled out of the partnership because of lack of money and, in 2005, the center closed.

In 2007, the center reopened under the management of a new Poulsbo Marine Science Foundation, but the foundation has not paid rent since reopening the center. Then, the flooding in November. Mus said a donor pulled his or her donations thinking the center was permanently closed.

Admission to the center is free. In addition to the Sealaska sublease payments, the center typically receives $1,200 per month in donations. Some 30,000 people have visited the center over the past three years.

Mus said visitors will see new and familiar features in the center when it reopens. Aquarium residents include an octopus, perch, rockfish, wolf eel, and various crab species. The floating lab and the touch tank will be there, as well as a bull kelp and eelgrass exhibit, and an activities room for children.

Educating small children about the marine environment and seeing the wonder in their eyes is what Mus enjoys most about his job. “They learn that there’s something more than just waves on the water,” he said.

Peter McCormick, senior program manager of Sealaska Environmental Services, said his offices are moving back to the center next week, with an open house following at a future date. He said his environmental services office and the center are a good fit.

“We do environmental investigation and mediation work. We do a lot of work for Navy bases in the area,” he said. “It’s a good match. Our people volunteer downstairs. It’s a nice office space and we we like to support the Marine Science Center when we can.”

Sealaska Environmental Services has a total of 90 employees, and 23 work out of the office at the Marine Science Center.

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