Infinity breaks ground

Published 3:44 pm Friday, November 21, 2008

Ground was broken for the new Infinity Visitor’s Center on Thursday, a center to be built for Stennis Space Center and slated to promise a unique experience for visitors of the Mississippi Welcome Center in Hancock County.

Upon its completion, the new Visitor’s Center will seek to direct young attendees towards a career in science.

Infinity will be a stage upon which the scientific work that takes place at Stennis Space Center will be displayed, putting it at the grasp of Mississippi and Louisiana school children.

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John Wilson, Infinity education program development director, hopes that children who go into the center wanting to be rock stars will come out wanting to study rocks on Mars.

Apollo 13 Astronaut Fred Haise said he has been to a number of museums in his lifetime, and he expects Infinity to be something unique. It will feature exhibits based on the work done at Stennis in all its various capacities, from space travel to oceanic exploration and scientific observation. Everything offered in the museum will fit into a child’s school curriculum.

Planned exhibits will include computer terminals that will allow children to create conditions for hurricanes and, through computer modeling, they will be able to watch the outcome of their creations. Another exhibit will let children see how land development affects wetlands, and how land masses are shaped through time and erosion.

An estimated 350,000 visitors are expected to visit the new Visitor’s Center each year once it opens in 2010. Access from the interstate to the center will get a helping hand from the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said Transportation Commissioner Wayne Brown.

Construction of the center will cost about $38 million, $28 million for the building and another $10 million for the exhibits, interactive galleries, gift shop and cafeteria, according to a press release. At this point, $4 million remains to be raised to have all the necessary funds for the new center. Mississippi House of Representatives Speaker Pro Tempore J.P. Compretta said the State of Mississippi has been able to raise about $10 million for the center.

Infinity board of directors member Glade Woods said local banks in Picayune, such as Bank Plus and First National, have shown interest in donating to the cause as well. The Lower Pearl River Valley Foundation has already donated about $100,000 to the center, Woods said. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians donated $125,000 at Thursday’s ground breaking.

“I think this is one small step for Hancock County and one giant leap for the state of Mississippi,” Compretta said.

The diversity in the educational opportunities at Infinity is expected to help guide children to want to participate in wetlands protection and energy conservation, said Myrtis Franke, who represented U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., at the event.

One Infinity board member who was absent for the event, Leo Seal, died just days before the ground breaking. Part of his life’s work involved raising funds for the center, said Hancock Bank President George Schloegel. Schloegel said he was one of the last people to see Seal alive, and Seal told him that he would not make it to the ground breaking. Seal’s last wishes to Schloegel were to keep “twisting arms” to get the funding needed for the center.

“Even to his last breath, that’s what he wanted,” Schloegel said. “He had Infinity on his mind right to the last minute. Some folks say he’s not here, he is here. In fact he probably put in word for this weather.”