HISTORY OF THE SCIENCE CENTER
In the late 1980s, the Jr. League of the Emerald Coast led by Dr. Alexis Tibbetts began a feasibility study to see if Okaloosa County could support a science museum. The response was overwhelming, and with the support of the city of Fort Walton Beach, Okaloosa County School System, the University of West Florida, Okaloosa Walton Community College, local business owners, and government contractors, the plan to build a science museum in Fort Walton Beach was put into action. In 1989, the Emerald Coast Science Center opened its doors as the FOCUS (Families of Okaloosa County Understanding Science) Center. The name FOCUS emphasized the priority of the founders that the center was not just for children or adults--it was a center for families to learn about science together.
Initially the FOCUS Center was a volunteer-run organization headed by members of the Jr. League. Exhibits were made by local businesses and volunteers with an emphasis on hands-on learning. It was open to the public on the weekends and was a field trip destination for Okaloosa County students during the week. As the popularity of the FOCUS Center grew, it became apparent that the organization was becoming an entity that required more staff and more funds, so in 1992, it was decided to incorporate the FOCUS Center as a not for profit 501(c)(3) corporation. During the next 9 years, the FOCUS Center worked intimately with the Okaloosa County School System to provide lab-based activities at the center as well as at the local schools.
In 2001, the FOCUS Center changed its name to the Emerald Coast Science Center (ECSC) to better promote the museum as a regional science museum for Northwest Florida. Beginning in 2001, the museum expanded its operating hours to seven days per week and purchased professionally designed exhibits. It also began offering more on-site programs including scouting workshops, weekend discovery programs, after-school and evening programs, as well as teacher professional development classes.
In 2014, ECSC purchased a building on Memorial Parkway SW and moved out of our Brooks Street location. Our new facility includes over 5,000 additional square feet of space with two classroom spaces and 4 exhibit rooms along with 2 acres of property. New Robotics exhibits were installed in 2014 and 2015. In 2017, a new exhibit featuring our local Emerald Coast ecosystems was installed in the LaFollette Family Room and a renovated Reptiles and Amphibians exhibit opened. We were also proud to open our Makerspace in 2017. Our Makerspace houses various challenges designed to foster critical thinking skills and grow a love for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM).
In 2018, we were thrilled to debut a fascinating, groundbreaking new exhibit: SMALLab, courtesy of IMPACT100 of Northwest Florida. SMALLab is an embodied learning platform that has every learner up, moving, and collaborating in an interactive environment. We are honored to be only the third museum in the country with SMALLab. We also opened up two new exhibit rooms in 2018. Our Mini Makers and Experimenters Lab is geared toward preschool-aged children, with plenty of hands-on exhibits to encourage play and discover. Our DREAMS Lab also opened in order to offer families the chance to interact with a variety of hands-on kits designed to help children learn about a wide range of nature and environmental topics. In 2019, several new exhibits were installed in the main gallery space including a Catenary arch, a light and color exhibit, and an augmented reality wall. In 2020, our Ecosystem room was redesigned with updated interactive exhibits, and we regularly procure new exhibits to provide hands-on STEM experiences that allow families to think outside the box and discover science together.
We continue to expand our exhibits and programming, so be sure to stop by to see all the exciting things we have in store for our patrons!