Discovery Center revives beloved tradition in 40th-anniversary celebration
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By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Don Harrington Discovery Center, center officials are bringing back one of its most beloved traditions — the Discover! outdoor party.
Discover! 4.0 is set for 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday in and around the center, 1200 Streit Drive, and will feature children's activities, food vendors and science demonstrations, culminating in an outdoor laser show.
"Really, our reason for having the celebration is to say thank you to the community for a successful 40 years at the Discovery Center," said Curtis Crump, DHDC trustee and chair of the event.
"There are many things that people remember" from the center's four-decade history, said Aaron Pan, DHDC executive director. "Most recently, it was a (2011) dinosaur exhibition, or the laser light shows in the (Space Theater). Discover! was always one of those."
The Discover! party ran from 1989 to 2004, a Labor Day weekend tradition that ended in a fireworks show accompanied by live music from the Amarillo Symphony. The event went on hiatus in 2005 when, according to a DHDC news release, a city ordinance put a halt to the fireworks show thanks to the construction of nursing homes around the center.
"With the inability to do fireworks and stuff like that, it has really changed (the party), but we're really glad to bring the laser light show," Pan said.
Partygoers can fly down a zip line, get their faces painted, play street hockey and more. Other activities include a dunking booth, derby races and arts and crafts. Food will range from pizza to burgers to street tacos to fair food.
The center itself will be open, too, for celebrants to check out its hands-on exhibitions and the Space Theater in an air-conditioned environment.
Admission is $3 for ages 2 and older.
Parking is available in fields around the center.
The Discovery Center's origins trace back to 1968, when the Amarillo Foundation for Health & Science Education was formed. Foundation members met with city and Amarillo Independent School District officials in 1970 to explore plans for a center, and in 1972, the city designated four acres of Medical Center Park to be used for the building, which was named by Olsen Park Elementary School students.
Construction of a planetarium and gallery began in 1975, and community philanthropist made a sizeable gift to name the facility for her late husband, oilman Don Harrington. The center opened in 1976 and was formally dedicated on Oct. 28 of that year. The Helium Centennial Time Columns monument was moved to the center grounds in 1982.
In 1987, trustees adopted a plan to expand the original 10,000 square-foot facility — basically the Space Theater and its surrounding corridor, Pan said — by adding two wings. The 20,000-square-foot west wing opened in 1991, followed by the 32,000-square-foot east wing in 2000. Another master plan was adopted in 2001, leading to the center's architectural renovation (including a 2008 remodel for the front entrance) and the 2010 opening of the KinderStudio for its youngest guests.
In the past 10 years, the center has served more than 1.3 million visitors, Pan said, including a record-setting 166,598 in 2011.
"I can't imagine being in a community that didn't have a Discovery Center, having grown up here and gone there as a child, and in bringing my children there now," said Crump, principal at Pleasant Valley Elementary School. "It brings an extra (amount of) quality of life to what we have in Amarillo."
So will Discover! 4.0 turn into another tradition that spans 15 years? Not likely.
"At this point, there are no plans for it to be a yearly activity," Crump said.
"Nah, nah, nah," Pan said. "We will talk in 10 years (about another). How does that sound?"