Investing in education pays off.
That is the case that leaders of ETHOS Science Center will be trying to sell to public and private partners over the coming months as they attempt to raise several million dollars to transform a former industrial building into an innovation hub.
ETHOS, a nonprofit with a mission of helping children learn and love science, currently operates out of a facility on Industrial Parkway in Elkhart — but that space is no longer sufficient for all of the activities and camps the center coordinates, according to center supporters,
At ETHOS Science Center, children are given the opportunity to connect science to real life through lessons that they can see, touch, understand and enjoy.
Patty Gremaux of Edwardsburg, Michigan, has been taking her sons to ETHOS for nearly a decade. They have been involved in a number of different programs there, including robotics and summer camps. She is a staunch supporter of the expansion of the center.
“It has been an absolutely wonderful experience,” she said. “It helps launch their natural curiosity and interest in learning. It helps kids understand the magnificence of the world around them.”
Her son TJ Gremaux, a sixth-grader, said ETHOS’s flight and physics camp has inspired him to work to become an aerospace engineer. Her older son, 16-year-old Matthew Gremaux, is considering careers in the health profession thanks to ETHOS.
“ETHOS has helped fuel my desire to understand science and learn more about the world,” Matthew Gremaux said.
ETHOS already reaches more than 3,500 students each year throughout Elkhart and St. Joseph counties, but Executive Director Patsy Boehler believes that number can be much larger. Plus, the popular robotics program has already had to resort to leasing pace off-site to practice.
A new location
The Bayer Corp. has offered to donate its former campus — where $900 million worth of products, including Alka-Seltzer tablets and Flinstones vitamins, were once manufactured annually — located on North Michigan Street. But renovations to breathe life back into that building will cost about $6.9 million.
“This will give us an opportunity to have our own place and we get to move into a building that’s kind of a historical building in Elkhart,” Boehler said. “We think that we can help do some revitalization of that area and we are really looking forward for that opportunity.”
Advocates believe that the new Innovation Center will draw families from outside of Elkhart — from South Bend to Goshen and beyond — and help develop those children into passionate learners and innovators.
Ancon Construction has already started demolition on the 66,000-square-foot building, and the firm has big ideas for how to make the Innovation Center attract visitors from across the region. The architects are drawing inspiration from modern and contemporary museums with lots of color and vibrancy.
Mayor Tim Neese said the new facility is an extraordinary chance to redevelop a vacant and underutilized area of Elkhart.
“The facility proposed to house ETHOS is in the Elkhart Technology Park Redevelopment Area and will provide the catalysis this area needs to begin to revitalize this once industrial area into an innovation hub,” he said.
Indiana’s Regional Cities Initiative, which is supporting economic redevelopment projects across the state with public money, will put $532,325 toward the project if ETHOS can secure a match from a public source. ETHOS has asked the city of Elkhart to contribute an additional $532,325 — a request that the Finance Committee of the Elkhart City Council will consider in a special meeting at 7 p.m. Monday.
The Community Foundation of Elkhart County has also offered a $1 million challenge grant, which means that ETHOS supporters must raise $1 million in corporate, private or public gifts to secure the funding.
Money is starting to come in for the capital campaign, but ETHOS has a long way to go until it can call the building on Michigan Avenue home. Just last month, the American Electric Power Foundation, the charitable arm of Indiana Michigan Power, awarded the project $250,000.
“ETHOS is so well respected as a science education resource,” said Toby Thomas, Indiana Michigan Power’s president and CEO. “They’re helping to develop kids and getting them into science and technology.”
Matthew Gremaux, one of the many thousands of kids ETHOS has influenced, agreed and encouraged the community to support the new Innovation Center.
“I just feel like science is going to be the future, and you have to focus on the youth in order to make the future better,” he said. “By funding ETHOS, you’re helping promote youth education.”