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Future Fruita facility: ‘Incubator for technology leaders’

Sharon Sullivan
ssullivan@gjfreepress.com
Americorps member Marie Wiley and JJ Starks, 10, check out an aquarium at the John McConnell Math and Science Center on Saturday. JJ was there with his mother Carri Starks of Longmont, and his grandmother Juliann Adams of Palisade.
Sharon Sullivan/ssullivan@gjfreepress.com | Free Press

More exhibits, energy-efficient technology and additional classrooms will be included in the new John McConnell Math and Science Center of Western Colorado slated for Fruita.

Still in the conceptual phase, the new Math and Science Center is two to three years away from being built. Until then, the center will continue to operate at New Emerson Elementary School on Orchard Mesa.

“We want the public to stay in touch and follow our progress,” the center’s executive director Teresa Coons said. “We’d love their thoughts about what they’d like to see.”



Retired Grand Junction physicist John McConnell founded the Math and Science Center in 1999 at Wingate Elementary. The following year, the center moved into the New Emerson building. More than a dozen years later the center has outgrown that space.

“We can’t expand exhibits or programs due to (lack of) space,” Coons said.



The plan is to build a larger center adjacent to Museum of Western Colorado’s Dinosaur Journey, 550 Jurassic Ct.

Juliann Adams of Palisade was visiting the Math and Science Center on Sunday with her daughter and grandchildren from Longmont, Colo.

“I love the idea” of a new center being built in Fruita, Adams said, who works for the Palisade Chamber of Commerce. “I’m certain it will be an attraction to the area.”

Several factors contributed to landing on the Fruita location, including a projected boost in visibility. The site is near the Colorado Visitor Center, the most visited welcome center in the state.

Dinosaur Journey itself attracts 40,000 drop-in visitors annually, not counting school field trips. The new campus will create a “larger, more cohesive STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) attraction for the Grand Valley,” according to a news release.

The “synergy” that a museum campus will provide will allow for more collaborative programs and shared facilities between the center and the dinosaur museum, Coons noted.

“We’re already doing a joint family membership with the museum,” she added.

The two entities currently co-host an adult seminar series featuring guest speakers at Grand Junction’s Whitman Educational Center, 248 S. Fourth St. on the second Thursday of every month.

The Math and Science Center will remain a valley-wide facility after it moves to Fruita.

“We serve the entire West Slope,” Coons said. “We will continue to partner with Grand Junction, parks and recreation programs, all of School District 51 — that won’t change.”

The new center will have the Colorado River State Park in its “backyard,” and nearby Colorado National Monument. Plus, the proximity of hotels and restaurants was another attraction of the site.

Coons said she hopes to build an energy efficient (if not net zero) center that can be showcased for its energy technology.

Plus, that would help with the center’s operating expenses, she added.

Coons estimated it will take six to eight months to develop a conceptual design of the new facility. After drawings are completed, the nonprofit educational center will know how much money it needs to raise.

The center does not receive public funding; instead the nonprofit relies on private donations, memberships, camp fees, and foundation grants.

Faculty and students at the University of Colorado in Denver and Colorado Mesa University’s Western Colorado Community College will donate architectural, engineering, and bid services for the new center.

The new, more advanced center will be not only an “economic boon” to the region; it will also “be an incubator of our future technology leaders,” Coons said.

The Math and Science Center, 2660 Unaweep Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


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