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Potomac Science Center going up at Belmont Bay

© Leesburg Today - 07/28/2015

After years of delays, a long-awaited waterfront research and education facility in Woodbridge is set to open next year.

Construction is underway on George Mason University's long-awaited Potomac Science Center in the Belmont Bay community of Woodbridge and is expected to be completed in the spring.

Site work along the shores of the Occoquan River was done several years ago. Then the project stalled.

""Budgetary constraints faced by the Commonwealth of Virginia delayed construction,"" said Nancy C. Conwell, director of facilities planning, operations and marketing for Mason's College of Science.

When completed, the $30 million project will house the College of Science's Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center, or PEREC, and its Geospatial Intelligence Center.

The Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center is now housed in several labs and offices at Mason's Fairfax Campus.

The 50,000-gross-square-foot building will consist of a river level and four additional floors.

It will house environmental and wet chemistry labs, geospatial computer labs, classrooms, a ""Discovery Lab"" for K-12 students, faculty offices, collaboration space, a future public display area, and about 3,000-square-feet of special events space available for hosting a variety of mission-supported activities, including meetings and seminars that support local partners and other community stakeholders, according to Dr. R. Christian (Chris) Jones, director of PEREC.

""PEREC will now be strategically located adjacent to the Chesapeake Bay watershed; the new consolidated center will provide direct access to local ecosystems and will be home to numerous exhibits and a hands-on discovery lab,"" Jones said.

While it's on the shores of the Occoquan River, it's very close to the Potomac River and the Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge, one of the newest additions to the National Wildlife Refuge system.

Additionally, Pohick Bay Regional Park, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge and Mason Neck State Park are nearby providing addition access for research.

The Potomac Science Center will provide educational opportunities for school and youth groups and community members, as well as researchers from all over the country.

""Community education is a vital component to PEREC's mandate, and the new facility will enhance the education and outreach of the center,"" said Dr. Cynthia Smith, professor and educational director of PEREC.

Since 2009, the PEREC team has delivered watershed educational experiences to more than 30,000 students in the Prince William County schools and 25,000 students in the Fairfax County schools.

""These experiences are essentially full-day Chesapeake Bay-related field investigations at local waterways,"" Smith said.

Trained Mason students serve as field interpreters, mentoring middle school students as they collect aquatic invertebrates and conduct water chemistry measurements to better understand watershed health, she said.

""PEREC faculty will deliver professional development programs for pre-service and in-service teachers as well as informal science educators across the commonwealth,"" Smith said. ""The PEREC team will scale-up its K-12 programs, continuing to work closely with K-12 administrators to ensure all programming is aligned with county, state and national standards.""

A larger and enhanced geospatial intelligence center will also locate at the Potomac Science Center.

Geospatial analysis is of fundamental importance to environmental applications, according to Dr. Anthony Stefanidis, chair of the Geography and Geoinformation Science Department.

""With the proximity of federal and state government agencies and private industry having a strong presence in the area, opportunities for education and technology-transfer collaborations will be enhanced,"" Stefanidis said.

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