Originally created 03/04/03

Don't let our National Science Center close



I HAVE READ several articles in The Chronicle lately about our state's annual appropriation for the National Science Center here in Augusta. The tenor of comments from some of our elected leaders should cause all of us significant concern.

Statements by some of our elected officials are negative or non-committal, as if they have no play in the budget process or at least have no influence over those who do have impact on the Georgia budget. We all know that the state has significant budget shortfalls, but cutting the monies slated for support of the National Science Center is not tolerable for Georgia. Some of our leaders just do not get that. Let me explain the facts so fellow Augustans and those in the Central Savannah River Area know what is at stake.

Georgia has provided monies in the past to purchase the science displays in Fort Discovery and the state has continued to provide approximately $1.5 million yearly to allow the National Science Center to operate and offer free access for Georgia students. Our Fort Discovery houses the National Science Center and it has become an important part of our downtown revitalization. It is one of the anchors of our Riverwalk enterprises. This organization, thanks to its CEO, Joe Edwards, and his hard-working staff, is becoming a national science center that will impact not only on this state but upon the nation. The NSC offers a major opportunity for us to be known for science education countrywide. Education is one of this country's most important issues for our children. The NSC is uniquely positioned to become a leader for this national educational improvement.

THE NATIONAL Science Center is a partnership with the U.S. Army. It came from the Army at Fort Gordon and is an organization highly regarded by the Army's leadership in the Pentagon. Over the past 20 years, the Army has spent millions supporting the NSC's mission. It values our National Science Center and today is sponsoring the national outreach efforts to impact on all of America. The Army-NSC relationship becomes even more crucial due to the importance of community partnerships being highly valued by the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) committees operating at the Department of the Army right now. The Army-NSC partnership is very important to both Fort Gordon and the National Science Center. It is a win-win relationship and we need more like it in Augusta.

If Georgia walks away from the National Science Center and its partnership with the Army, our NSC will lack money to operate unless someone can make up for the loss of the state money. The Georgia appropriation is literally crucial to the NSC's economic viability. If Georgia does not value its investment in science education at the NSC and its partnership with the Army (which provides two dozen talented employees who work everyday at the NSC), then Georgia by association sends a very definite message that it does not place high value on Fort Gordon.

It is a simple deduction to say that our Army post becomes a clearer target for closing in 2005. The leadership in the Pentagon that places high value on our NSC is the same leadership who will decide which Army posts are offered for the 2005 BRAC. We cannot afford to send mixed messages to the Pentagon that on one hand say how much we want our post to remain and gain but on the other, we do not care about the Army's long-term investment in the NSC. Close the NSC and we have made the Army's job of picking a major post to close much easier. In their perception, if this happens, the state will have killed the partnership and negated 20 years of Army support to the NSC.

WE NEED OUR politicians to state clearly and forcibly that they will ensure that the annual monies will continue to be sent to our National Science Center. City leadership and state representatives must lead, not make statements similar to "anything can happen so you never know." Such statements almost de-couple them from the problem.

Augusta and the CSRA need to ask that our elected officials make the future of the NSC a priority and couple it with ensuring Fort Gordon remains viable for the military's future. If the Army believes so much in the NSC, with its funds shortages and operational challenges, certainly our great state can do likewise.

Let's not lose the large investments made by our local government, our citizens, many business leaders, our state and national governments and Fort Gordon. A vibrant National Science Center is important to our downtown, important to Fort Gordon's future and most important to our children's appreciation and understanding of science in their future.

Please encourage our elected officials to collectively get behind the National Science Center and Fort Gordon. Both are vital parts of our future.

(Editor's note: The writer is a retired Army lieutenant general who served at Fort Gordon.)