Atwater's Challenger Learning Center could shutdown

ATWATER, Calif.

The facility on the former Castle Air Force Base also features a portable planetarium, simulated space missions, several experiments, and this so called "Science on a Sphere." It serves students from Sacramento to Kern County.

Tom Tanioka said, "This museum has become the best science museum in the San Joaquin Valley."

Education Director Tom Tanioka says the center has expanded in recent years thanks to exhibits from other museums that had to shut down, including the Fresno Met. But now it's also in danger of closing.

Tom Tanioka said, "It really bothers me that we might have to close our doors after being so successful the last 5 years."

Supporters held a news conference at the facility Friday. They say Merced County plans to dramatically increase its lease fees and stop making payments from a 2003 contract that will cost the learning center a total of about a half million dollars each year.

Linn Davis said, "I don't want to see Challenger shut down."

Merced County Supervisor Linn Davis represents the district the center is in. He says the county simply can't afford to keep paying more than 12 thousand dollars a month for buildings it already owns.

Davis said, "I don't think it's the county's responsibility to fund non-profit organizations."

The Challenger Learning Center's board president says negotiations are still ongoing, and he and these students, are hoping for a compromise that could keep the facility open.

Cristina Soria said, "It would be really sad because the people who haven't been here would miss a lot of fun."

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