Marine Science Center reopens

 - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

POULSBO — In a building that has echoed emptily for more than two years with the construction sounds of just a few dedicated volunteers, the hum of a crowd filling its every nook and cranny Sunday was nothing short of harmonious.

And the excitement illuminating children’s faces as they entered the treasure of seafaring creatures and dockside decor now refurbished and redesigned from the depths proved the incredible efforts of a small few were more than worth it.

“It’s wonderful. I was hoping for this,” said Poulsbo Marine Science Center Foundation Vice President and volunteer extraordinaire Bill Austin, observing groups of kids reaching into a saltwater touch tank toward various undersea inhabitants. “This is good, this is working.”

Austin admitted to being fairly tired, as he worked at the PMSC through Saturday night finishing up last-minute details.

The center closed because of financial shortfalls in February 2005, and for nine months Austin has taken on the task of reopening the structure — a goal he’s worked toward on nearly a daily basis. Though jellyfish and an octopus have yet to make a showing, he said the tanks are now ready and more critters will soon be on their way.

Nearly 100 people attended Sunday’s opening ceremony, where the various tanks and their inhabitants were displayed for the first time to the public.

Jay Volz of Poulsbo, who brought his 10-year-old son, Javin, to the event, said they signed up for classes to learn how to feed the animals and clean the tanks so they can join the ranks of volunteers.

“We were pretty excited when it opened again,” he said.

Volunteer coordinator Denise Bauman said the number of people who signed up to learn to volunteer was less than she had expected, but she still has hopes the community will join in to keep the center going.

“What I’m hoping is that I get some volunteers,” Bauman said. “It’s not typical that you have so few paid staff as we have.”

Bauman said the center received cash donations, including several $20 bills, during it’s Sunday opening. Though nearly all who walked through the front doors seemed to tout the same enthusiasm for its success, the institution really depends of the giving of time and money from the community members, both which Bauman said she hopes begin to increase.

“Mentally, the people of Poulsbo are very supportive,” she said. “I just don’t know if that will translate into enough money and enough time.”

PMSC Foundation president Bruce Harlow kicked off the opening ceremony at noon, with Suquamish Tribe chair Leonard Forsman, 23rd District Rep. Christine Rofles and Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade also in attendance. The center was so filled by visitors by that time that a few braved the cold weather as they stood in the doorway.

“We are proud of this beautiful facility,” Harlow said. “It is here because of the work of a lot of people.”

He said the floating lab, for which the center received a $100,000 grant from the state, is expected to be ready this spring. More than a dozen school districts in the region will take part in that process, allowing students to take their own water samples and experience tangibly for themselves what Liberty Bay contains.

“It is for the children,” he said. “Education is job one here.”

Caleb Hutley who along with his brother Ian Hutley raised more than $650 for the center by making and selling greeting cards at the Poulsbo Farmers Market during the summer, said he looked forward to learning more about octopuses. His mother, Elizabeth Hutley, said the center provides an educational attraction for the community that doesn’t require a ferry ride or bridge crossing in order for families to gain access. She pointed out that as Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) tests show lower results than desired, the Marine Science Center ties in perfectly with the effort to improve science education.

“You just can’t replace something like this,” she said.

Austin pointed out aquarium director Patrick Mus as another driving force behind the success of the center. With more knowledge about the workings of the structure than nearly anyone, Austin said Mus has been a key piece in the building’s completion, and will continue to be vital as it opens for visitors.

“He knows all there is to know about this thing,” he said. “He is one of the major forces here.”

Councilman Dale Rudolph said he was amazed at the structure’s redesign, which he termed nothing less than “phenomenal.”

“I’m delighted to see the kids,” he said. “This is probably the biggest community project in town. It’s really something.”

Harlow called the funds given by the government the “best use of government money in 40 years,” as the structure’s renovation, worth $1 million, was done for just $250,000.

Twenty-third District Rep. Sherry Appleton, who has championed state funding for the center for years, said she will continue to ask for money this legislative session, including another $40,000 specifically for a life support system for the look-down tank and additional $100,000. Already the center has been granted $150,000 for the next two years, but more is needed.

“If we all do it together we can do great things here,” Harlow said. “I look forward to a great future. We’re good now, but we’re going to be great later.”

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