- Associated Press - Sunday, May 25, 2014

LEAD, S.D. (AP) - While cutting-edge science is being conducted a mile beneath the Earth’s surface at the Sanford Underground Laboratory at Homestake, Black Hills visitors will soon see tangible evidence of a scientific mission above ground.

The Lead City Commission recently approved a permit to demolish the existing Homestake Visitor Center that sits at the edge of the 900-foot-deep Open Cut, the most impressive remnant of 125 years of gold mining in the region.

In early June, crews will begin dismantling it to make way for the 8,000-square-foot, $4.5 million Sanford Underground Laboratory Homestake Visitor Center that will tell the story of a western mining town and its transformation into a center for advanced scientific research. City and lab officials believe the new visitor center will open in June 2015.

The new facility, which will include $750,000 in interpretive exhibits, is one component of a three-pronged approach the lab is undertaking to expand its educational outreach programs, said Ron Wheeler, the lab’s governmental affairs director and a member of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority’s board.

“The current visitor center is essentially a gift shop in a beautiful location,” he said. “What we would hope is that we actually create a new facility where the public can see exhibits that show the history of the Homestake Mine as well as its transition in the 21st century to cutting-edge science.”

Wheeler is quick to note that the new visitor center is only one element of the lab’s overall plan. Last fall, Sanford Underground Laboratory announced a partnership with Black Hills State University to revamp Jonas Hall and create an environment that results in teachers who are better trained to teach sciences.

In addition, Wheeler said one of the primary goals of the lab’s $7 million capital campaign is the creation of a multi-media center that allows scientists conducting underground experiments to connect in real-time with K-12 classrooms throughout South Dakota.

“We all know the next generation of workers in the U.S., 20 years from now, must be better trained in science, technology, engineering and math,” Wheeler said. “It’s a big push nationwide. We have an opportunity right here in the Black Hills to leverage what we have going on with scientists at the Sanford Lab, let them talk to students in classrooms all over South Dakota, and get them interested in what’s going on.”

Wheeler said the capital campaign already had received support from the towns of Lead, Deadwood and Spearfish. So far, the campaign stands at about 30 percent of its $7 million goal, he said.

“We have a long way to go and we’re asking for help,” Wheeler said.

A classroom within the visitor center will draw on the science and engineering at the Sanford Underground Laboratory and the education programs at BHSU to develop learning experiences for many audiences from kindergarten students to retirees, Ben Sayler, director of Education and Outreach for the lab and a professor at BHSU, said in a prepared release.

“At the core of the new visitor center is the Sanford Science Education Center, a partnership between the Lab, the Lead Chamber of Commerce/Homestake Visitor Center and Black Hills State University,” Sayler said.

It also aligns perfectly with the new trend in tourism, Chamber Director Melissa Johnson said in the same release.

“People want more from a vacation than sight-seeing,” Johnson said. “They want an educational experience. Lead’s rich history and the science going on at the lab make it a perfect education destination.”

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Information from: Rapid City Journal, https://www.rapidcityjournal.com


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