Sanford Lab starts science education center - KOTA Territory News

Sanford Lab starts science education center

LEAD – Although this historic Black Hills mining town saw the Homestake Mine close in 2002, Lead is celebrating a golden future of science research now happening nearly a mile underground.

Mine tours are not available. To share the science studies success story up here on the surface, city and state leaders on Monday turned ceremonial shovels of dirt to begin building the $5 million Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center.

Sanford Lab's governmental and external affairs director Ron Wheeler says the center will open next June and showcase Lead's rich history and educational programs about the scientific advancements in the former Homestake Mine. Ironically, the studies in what was North America's oldest and deepest gold mine involve neutrinos and dark matter, the stuff that makes up the heavenly cosmos.

The center's funding comes from South Dakota's best known billionaire -- T. Denny Sanford -- who contributed $20 million for educational projects tied to Sanford Lab. Current work includes upgrading science teaching facilities at nearby Black Hills State University in Spearfish.

Teaching teachers about science will be an important part of the lab's mission, Wheeler told the crowd gathered for Monday's groundbreaking.

"Another focus will be ... we haven't talked about it a lot yet, but we will be really looking at workshops, conducting workshops up here in Lead to train teachers," Wheeler said

The new visitor center is perched on the edge of the old Open Cut, Lead's iconic symbol of its golden past. The now idle open pit mine is where prospectors found gold in 1876. The site is along Highway 85 entering town and the business district.

Lead Mayor Jerry Apa says the location's high visibility will help the center to succeed in attracting visitors. Despite being literally on the edge of the gaping half-mile wide and 900-foot-deep pit, Apa says the site will be safe and is a good investment.

"After visiting with geological engineers and coming to the proposal that they would drill many 100-foot holes for pilings, they found that this was the most economical site."

The new center will replace the smaller former Homestake visitor center, which attracted about 40,000 people a year. Tourists will still come to the new facility for rides to the mine's remaining surface rock crushing and shaft elevator facilities.

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