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Science center proposal gains traction at commissioner’s meeting

The Block Smith Gym in downtown Lincolnton.

Staff Writer

The Block Smith Gym in Lincolnton may soon become a science center following a presentation delivered to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Monday evening.

Edward McFadden, founder and chairman of STEM Career Path Project, Inc. has offered to purchase the building from the county for $1. On Monday, McFadden requested a letter of intent from the county to sell the building at that price, which would allow him to begin fundraising efforts for the renovation of the Block Smith Gym.

The letter of intent, which will be crafted by county attorney Wesley Deaton, will require a fundraising benchmark to be met within a designated period of time before the county will relinquish ownership of the building. A requirement of $2 million within one year was suggested during Monday’s meeting, but those parameters have yet to be finalized. The county will be required to schedule a public hearing to discuss the terms of the contract before entering into such an agreement, but a date for that hearing hasn’t been established at this time.

STEM Career Path Project, a nonprofit organization founded by McFadden in 2012, signed a contract last year with Atlanta-based nonprofit Economic Empowerment Initiative to help raise $20 million over a two-year period. McFadden also said that he has met with USDA rural development officials, who have expressed interest in helping to fund a significant portion of the project.

McFadden, an engineer at the Duke Energy McGuire Nuclear Station on Lake Norman, told the commissioners that the cost to renovate the Block Smith Gym into a science center is estimated at $7 million. The remaining money from the fundraising goal of $20 million would be used for operating costs over the next several years.

McFadden presented a timeline for the project, assuming a letter of intent is crafted by May 15. He projected that the renovations would begin in October 2018 and that the science center would be ready for business on Jan. 1, 2020.

“I’m in favor of it,” commission chairman Bill Beam said. “The county is basically in a no-lose situation where you’re going to have a year to prove that you can raise this money. This is a very optimistic project and if you can make all of this happen then it’s going to be fantastic. I would love to see it happen for the students of Lincoln County. This could be really great and I would love to see it come to fruition.”

McFadden’s vision for the science center includes an exhibit where kids can operate a simulated power plant, a 3D movie theatre with seats that move in conjunction with what’s happening on the screen, a self-instructed robotics exhibit, a firefighter simulation and a LEGO world exhibit that provides the building blocks for STEM education. In addition to the science center, McFadden has plans for a mobile bus filled with STEM activities that will travel to schools and underprivileged neighborhoods to reach kids who can’t afford admission to the science center.

In other county business:

  • The commissioners unanimously approved a 170-lot subdivision to be known as Creek Park on approximately 82 acres on the west side of Little Egypt Road about 3,600 feet south of Optimist Club Road in the Catawba Springs Township.
  • A request for amendments to the master plan of the previously approved mixed-use Rivercross development was withdrawn prior to a vote from the commissioners.
  • The commissioners voted to waive the $10 fee associated with the disposal of old TVs and CRT monitors. Lincoln County residents can now dispose of old electronics at any of the county’s landfills, free of charge.
Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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