Friday, April 28, 2006

Submarine not coming to Newport


The Cincinnati Post
By Peggy Kreimer and Tom O'Neill
April 27, 2006

The plan to bring a decommissioned nuclear submarine to the Newport riverfront has sunk, but the in-school education program partnered with it will steam on.

Peter Kay, board chair of the nonprofit National Submarine Science Discovery Center, confirmed Wednesday how the deal for the submarine's procurement collapsed.

In short: Organizers needed to raise about $2 million locally, and came up $1.5 million short.

The plan to bring the submarine USS Narwhal to Newport - with local money kick-starting a $25 million national fund-raising campaign - was announced with much fanfare in 2003.

The boat, to be berthed near the Newport Aquarium, was envisioned as a tourist attraction, a science museum and a science lab for students. The Narwhal would have become the first modern-era sub to be displayed outside a Navy facility.

The center was expected to draw 300,000 visitors a year and have a $20 million economic impact annually, according to a study commissioned by the Discovery Center organization.

But the fund-raising campaign "didn't even come close," Kay said. "We're focusing totally on the education program now. We've decided the region is not going to support the submarine."

The financial struggle is due in part, he said, to simple supply and demand. It's hard to keep afloat, and financially viable, any entity that can't rely on repeat visitors. He cited the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, which earlier this year revealed that it had run up a $5.5 million deficit since opening in August 2004.

With a deadline of July, and only about $500,000 in hand primarily from local corporate and foundation donations, optimism for the submarine venture waned.

"We got $75,000 from Toyota, $65,000 from the Dearborn Community Foundation in Indiana, and $50,000 from Cinergy," Kay said, adding that Scripps Howard, which publishes The Post, also contributed.

That money is virtually gone, spent on feasibility studies and the educational program at Holmes High School in Covington.

That program, which has been a growing success, costs about $150,000 to $200,000 a year to operate, Kay said. Even though a two-year grant from the Stillson Foundation expires this year, organizers are confident funds will be available to keep it going.

But the submarine that would have served as a "lab" for the region's fifth- and sixth-graders in the program will either go elsewhere or stay moored in Puget Sound near Seattle.

Last month, Kay quietly notified Navy officials that the deal was dead.

"We just couldn't come up with the money," Kay explained. "The Navy said they understood."

There were logistical problems, too, in securing the sub. The nation's shipyards are full of workers focusing on the needs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, so the Navy simply didn't have the time to cut up into three pieces a decommissioned submarine for community use, Kay said.

The process would have required burying the center part of the boat where the nuclear reactor was housed. But that can only happen twice a year, when the Columbia River is high enough to accommodate the transfer from Puget Sound to the nuclear burial site at a Department of Energy site in Hanford, Wash.

The rest of the sub would have been assembled around a museum and education center on a barge. That's where Newport was to come in.

"Even if we had the money in hand now, it probably couldn't happen until 2010," Kay said.

A year ago he predicted the sub could be in Northern Kentucky in 2007.

The submarine simulator at Holmes remains the part of the program that has been successful, hosting students almost daily during the school year.

About 600 students went through the year-long program in 2005, and 860 are expected to graduate this year, Cyndi Etsler, who developed the educational program, said Wednesday.

Students come from as far north as Mason and as far south as Walton and Verona, Ky.

Students learn aspects of physical and life sciences - density, buoyancy, polar coordinates and marine parameters - but also must apply what they have learned in math and social studies. The hope was to use the sub to bring those lessons alive for students.

"It's a good way to get kids hyped up about science," Etsler said. "Who's going to be our scientists in the years to come?"

Etsler, a 30-year veteran teacher and assistant director of the Elementary Science Support Center at Purdue University Calumet in Hammond, Ind., runs the simulator classes. She helped create the NavOps Deep Submergence curriculum in Indiana, which features a submarine simulator and uses submarine operations to teach math and science concepts to students.

The Northern Kentucky program used the Indiana project as a model.

Kay is still raising money and interest for the education program.

"Toyota recently donated $50,000 to Aquatic Ventures, which is being done in conjunction with the aquarium and other entities," he said

The submarine simulation project was launched as a pilot project in 2004, designed to serve 300 to 500 fifth-grade students in the Covington, Campbell County, Fort Thomas, Southgate and Cincinnati school systems.

The plan was to expand the program to reach 40,000 to 50,000 area students in grades five through eight.

The education program was to be paired with the National Submarine Science Discovery Center, showcasing the Cold-War era submarine and exhibits covering everything from astronomy to cell developmentCincinnati businessman R. Thomas Schram launched the project in 2003, saying it hinged on two key elements - money and a decision by the Navy.

The Navy had to agree to donate a submarine for the project. Then the organization had to raise the money to accept the donation and develop the center.

Total development costs were estimated at $60 million, including $24 million pledged by the Navy to restore the sub and land valued at $10 million which was to be donated by Newport to locate the center at Newport on the Levee. That left about $26 million to raise.

Last year Schram stepped down as executive director of the National Submarine Science Discovery Center because the project hadn't brought in enough money to pay him.

That's when Kay took over fund-raising and promotion.

It's been an upstream battle ever since. Upstream also might describe any trip tri-staters might have to make to see the Narwhal.

Kay said the Carnegie Foundation is considering bringing it to Pittsburgh.



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