Cool Science Festival lays groundwork for future center

Matt Stafford of KOAA-TV, right, and Dr. Ron Furstenau, U.S. Air Force Academy chemistry professor, prepare a science demonstration for a crowd of about 100 during the opening ceremony at the Cool Science Carnival Day 2011.

When more than 5,000 people showed up last year to the Cool Science Carnival Day, organizers knew they had tapped a desire that eventually could translate into a permanent science center.

They had believed for some time that Colorado Springs children and adults wanted science and could not get enough science, and they were right, said Steve Rothstein, co-founder and president of the Colorado Springs Science Center Project.

“There is a hunger across the country for science and engineering activities,” Rothstein said. “There is a latent and unfed well of interest and hunger.”

This year’s Cool Science Festival promises even more activities — nine days of stargazing, geocaching, films, crime-scene lab tours, a Rubik’s Cube contest, bugs, robotics, model-airplane flying and even the microbiology behind beer brewing.

Three years ago the festival was a single-day event that attracted 2,000 people. Last year, organizers pushed for eight days. They had hoped for two to three events per day and were knocked out when organizations from across the city stepped up to host as many as seven events per day at dozens of locations around the city.

“It was a phenomenal success,” Rothstein said.

The Cool Science Festival, named among the Top 10 Science Festivals in the country last year by USA Today, is paving the way toward a permanent science center. Rothstein has a vision for a 60,000-square-foot facility that delivers science year-around. He has been working on the project for five years and hopes to have a permanent facility in the next couple of years, he said.

“The festival for us is a leading marketing branding tool to get the region used to science, to be aware, to be engaged in the notion of science activity and learning,” he said.

Cool Science, a nonprofit organization dedicated to children’s science programming, started Cool Science Day a decade ago with a few activities for children. Now the organization partners to host the festival with the Colorado Springs Science Center Project; the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Center for STEM Education, which aims to address the shortage of skilled science, technology, engineering and math workers by getting youth interested in STEM activities; and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, a Colorado Springs-based nonprofit that specializes in formal science curriculum development.

“All four organizations are on board with the long-term plan of a science center,” Rothstein said.

The Urban Land Institute, which sent 10 panelists experienced with downtown redevelopment projects to evaluate Colorado Springs and recommend projects to improve downtown, released its report on downtown this week and said a science center is among a number of arts programs that would draw visitors to downtown.

A downtown science center has merit, festival organizers said. Marc Straub, Cool Science president, said the Colorado Springs Cool Science Festival is now attracting organizations from Denver and Boulder to participate. This year, about 20 out-of-town organizations, including the Denver Botanic Gardens and the Butterfly Pavilion, will set up booths and demonstrations at the Cool Science Carnival. For Straub, it shows off Colorado Springs as a science and technology hub but also indicates that the event could grow to be a statewide tourist attraction.

“Now that we have the attention of Denver, and we made an effort to promote the carnival, we do think we’ve reached the point, because of the sheer size and because there is no event like this in Denver, that we will continue to grow,” Straub said.

Three years ago, organizers spent about $12,000 hosting the event. This year, the four organizations, with sponsors, will spend about $40,000 hosting the nine-day festival, which includes activities at dozens of venues around the city. Highlights include a science film series, including footage from the Waldo Canyon fire and a discussion on how flames move.

“If all the events were filled up at max capacity, we have room for 9,300 people to engage,” Rothstein said.

In the next five years, organizers believe the event could draw as many as 35,000 people and command a budget of about $200,000.

“There is enough market capacity to expand significantly and also enough interest to expand it geographically,” Rothstein said. “This is the largest science fest in the state.”

Cool Science Festival

9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 13-21 at UCCS

More than 80 organizations offering dozens of activities, from exploding demonstrations to science shows.

For a full schedule, visit www.csscp.org