The Earth and Space Science Lab (ESSL) 2.0 Fund has been closed after years of inability to secure the money it aimed to collect.
The fund was created in 2014 by the Frederick County Board of Education and was held by the Frederick County Community Foundation. According to Leslie Pellegrino, chief financial officer for FCPS, the goal of the fund was to collect $200,000. But the fund never exceeded a balance of $8,000.
The board voted to close the fund at its Wednesday meeting because the administrative fees on the fund started to exceed the interest the collection was generating.
“We started looking at [the fund] and said is this the right mechanism for us?” Pellegrino said. “We do have a donation fund in our restricted project so people can still donate to us directly here at FCPS, but we decided it would be probably best to close this fund at this time.”
Lisa Bruck, co-director of the ESSL, said staff agreed that this was the right decision considering there are other ways for the lab to raise money.
The ESSL is a facility run by Frederick County Public Schools, located in downtown Frederick adjacent to Lincoln Elementary School. Its purpose is to enrich school science curriculums and mostly focuses on activities and shows for elementary-aged students. The ESSL also houses the Ausherman Planetarium, a dome system that realistically models the night sky and can project movies 360 degrees.
Before the board unanimously voted to close the fund, board member Michael Bunitsky asked if people knew how to donate to the lab.
Bruck said most of the money collected comes directly from programming that takes place at the lab and the associated admission fees. There is a restricted project fund to which people can donate, but it is not easily accessible. According to Bruck, there is currently no method of donating online with a credit card. Those who wish to donate must write a check out to the ESSL.
During the board meeting, Bunitsky suggested that the lack of ways to donate might have been the cause for the fund not meeting its collection goal.
“If we make it hard for people to find it, they’re never going to find it, and it seems like that may have been part of the issue here...[donating would be attractive] to so many of our students and parents that are attending events there,” he said.
The $8,000 that was collected will now be used to refurbish some exhibits that were obtained from the Maryland Science Center, Bruck said. They are already at the ESSL, and are interactive children’s exhibits with a focus on space.
As of now, the ESSL is closed due to COVID-19, but Bruck said there is virtual programming available to students on the lab’s website. It is unclear when the lab will reopen. Bruck said that determination will come from both FCPS and the state.