Baptist donates $5 million to science museum

With construction cranes, stacks of rebar and hard hat-wearing workers in the background, the Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science on Monday announced its first major corporate donor.

Baptist Health South Florida has committed $5million to the downtown Miami museum, set to open in 2016, for a section devoted to health and wellness.

Officials from the museum and the healthcare organization made the announcement during a press conference at Museum Park, where the Pérez Art Museum Miami opened last year and its 250,000-square-foot neighbor is taking shape.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled to have this organization at the forefront of the corporate donors for this magnificent structure going up behind us,” said Dan Bell, co-chair of the $275million science museum’s board of trustees.

The money will sponsor the Baptist Health People & Science Gallery, a 9,000-square-foot area on the main level with zones devoted to brain function, exercise, eating, human interaction and relaxation. Features in those zones will include an energy dance floor, virtual restaurant, science bar for cooking demonstrations and an aquaculture tank.

George Foyo, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Baptist Health South Florida, said the company had contemplated several ways to promote healthy living before deciding on the museum gift. Being a member of the museum’s board for the last two years, he said, “opened the idea” of sponsoring an area there.

“We saw the opportunity for us to reach a large number of students, and for that matter families, in one place with a consistent message about wellness and prevention,” Foyo said in an interview.

As part of the gift, every fourth grader in Miami-Dade’s public schools — about 27,000 kids — will have free access to the museum and transportation, according to a school district spokeswoman. Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said the gallery will help raise awareness with students about crucial issues surrounding obesity and related health complications.

“Why not do it in a fun setting where learning and science come together and come alive?” he said. As a neighbor of the museum site, Carvalho joked that he “cannot wait” for the building to open after being woken up most mornings by the sound of beeping trucks.

“I am not complaining, because we’re building something great,” he said.

The building process was well underway Monday, with concrete being poured for the giant wall near the main entrance and mock-ups for the pouring of the Gulf Stream Tank underway. The planetarium is expected to be topped off within the next couple months, said chief operating officer Frank Steslow.

Steslow said the construction of the building is about 40 percent done. After replacing the company in charge of managing the complicated project in May, he said the transition to the new firm is complete. The construction schedule is being revised; museum executives have said they do not expect significant budget changes to result from the switch.

Back in 2011, when a $35million naming gift from Phillip and Patricia Frost was announced, administrators said they expected the project to be finished by the end of 2014. By the groundbreaking nearly a year later, the targeted opening was 2015. Now, the museum is saying it is set to open in 2016.

According to the museum, the latest gift brings the private fundraising total to more than $87million out of a goal of $135million. Museum president and CEO Gillian Thomas said she expects to announce another corporate sponsor before the end of the year. The project is using $165million in county bond money.