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City Considers Providing Land for Children’s Science Center

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Supporters of the Ventura County Discovery Center, a plan to build a children’s science museum that has been kicking around this city for years, may have finally found a site to call home next to the Civic Arts Plaza.

City leaders have met with representatives of the nonprofit group pushing the Discovery Center and are proposing that they build the museum just east of the Civic Arts Plaza next to the planned Thousand Oaks Town Center, a multiplex movie theater and restaurant complex.

City Manager Grant Brimhall is asking the City Council for permission to further explore plans to lease the city-owned land, originally intended as a restaurant site, to the museum for $1 a year for about 60 years.

Mayor Andy Fox, who has taken part in the meetings, said locating the museum next to the city’s landmark performing arts complex--and the proposed Town Center’s movie theaters and restaurants--makes a lot of sense.

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“I’m very excited to try and work this into our plans for the Civic Arts Plaza,” Fox said. “It’s never been a question of whether it’s good for our community. It’s always been a matter of finding the right place.”

For backers of the Discovery Center--who originally wanted the museum to be part of the Civic Arts Plaza itself--the proposal makes sense.

“In a way, this is coming full circle, going back to the site we originally looked at,” said Planning Commissioner Linda Parks, a member of the nonprofit group’s board of directors. “We’re happy that the city has decided that this museum would fit in with the Civic Arts Plaza.”

Discovery Center supporters lobbied to try and obtain the former Thousand Oaks city hall building on Hillcrest Drive as the museum’s location. But city officials have other plans for the old city hall--they are looking to sell or lease the building to help pay for the $64-million Civic Arts Plaza, also the new City Hall.

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Carrie Glicksteen another member of the group’s board of directors, said the newly proposed site is better than the old city hall anyway. In addition to making the Discovery Center an integral part of Thousand Oaks’ fledgling artistic nucleus, it would make the museum a lot cheaper to develop, she said.

“We love the [old] site, but looking at it economically, this would be more feasible,” Glicksteen said. “It would allow us to create a real cultural hub. There’s a park there, and once the private side goes in, there will be parking and places to eat.”

For the Discovery Center to become a reality, the group still needs to raise more than $6 million to build the museum, put together its exhibits, and start an endowment fund. They have hired a professional fund-raiser to help them with the campaign, Glicksteen said.

The museum would not be very glitzy or high-tech, Parks said. Instead, it would be more of a hands-on, “learn by doing” exploratorium where children could have fun testing their problem-solving abilities and unleashing their creative impulses while dabbling in science.

The Discovery Center would feature:

* An “Inventor’s Laboratory” where children could tinker with various gadgets, taking apart old machines as well as creating new things.

* A “Science City” where young visitors could observe, explore and experiment with different forms of water, air and light as well as living creatures.

* A “Science Park and Plaza” outdoors where children could scoop up pond water from the park beside the Civic Arts Plaza and look at the organisms it contains through a microscope or whisper into a tube near the shopping plaza and have a friend hear it 100 feet away.

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* A “Technology Showcase” where different technological innovations developed by local companies would be on exhibit.

The museum would also host symposiums and workshops attracting scientists and educators, and would accommodate visits by large school groups.

In addition to leasing the land for nearly nothing, city officials are proposing to maintain the Discovery Center’s landscaping and allow the museum to use the surrounding park for exhibits.

Moreover, city officials are working with Kilroy Industries, the developer of the Town Center, to ensure that museum visitors could park in the Town Center’s garage. They are also proposing that, if the group’s fund-raising allows, the Discovery Center share overhead costs with the developer so both groups could reduce their building costs.

Representatives of Kilroy Industries could not be reached for comment, but according to Discovery Center backers, the developer is willing to share construction costs and parking with the museum.


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