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Citizens rally to save, reopen Port Discover

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The entrance to the now-closed Port Discover children's hands-on science learning center is seen Thursday, Sept. 13. A group of local citizens will meet Thursday to discuss ways to reopen the center.

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Local citizens are rallying to try and save Port Discover, hoping to reopen the hands-on science center following its abrupt closing late last month.

Port Discover’s board of directors closed the science center’s doors on Aug. 31. Russ Haddad, the chairman of Port Discover’s board of directors, said the agency lacked the money to cover its operating costs. Grants the nonprofit has received can’t be spent on operating costs, he explained.

The news came as a shock to many area residents, including Art Bergman, one of several community members hoping the nonprofit can be saved. The group plans to meet with Haddad on Thursday to learn whether, and how, Port Discover can reopen.

“Port Discover is a jewel,” said Bergman, adding it came as a “complete surprise” that Port Discover was closing.

Bergman, 80, explained he and his wife, Patti, consider Port Discover a great asset for a small community like Elizabeth City. He said hands-on activities help children understand and enjoy science, which in turn boosts their performance in school. He also said his family, including his daughters and grandchildren, have been impressed with the activities Port Discover has offered.

“This is something that has to be saved,” Bergman said.

Bergman said he doesn’t know the details yet why Port Discover had to close, but he’s hoping the nonprofit can achieve sustainable community fundraising. He noted people used to be able to support Port Discover by becoming dues-paying members, though not many knew about the opportunity.

Haddad said last week he’s heard from several people who want to save Port Discover. As one of the agency’s founding board members, he said it’s gratifying to hear their support.

However, he said Port Discover needs more, and sustainable, funding sources if it’s to remain open for years to come. Based on conversations with the board’s treasurer, Haddad said it would take at least $30,000 more a year to keep Port Discover open.

He also said Port Discover needs new leadership. Its prior director, Pat Wardell, left in June. Haddad and fellow board member Dan Smith said last month they didn’t blame Wardell alone for not doing enough fundraising to save the agency.

Haddad also noted that Elizabeth City Downtown, Inc. Executive Director Deborah Malenfant is helping coordinate Thursday’s scheduled meeting about saving Port Discover. 

In addition to the Bergmans, local real estate agent Phyllis Bosomworth is also among those hoping to save Port Discover, according to Malenfant. Bosomworth couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

For more information about Thursday’s meeting, Malenfant can be reached at 338-4104.

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