Living Lab fundraising near completion

An artist’s rendering of Ocean Discovery Institute’s Living Lab, which is planned to be built on the rim of Manzanita Canyon and within walking distance of several City Heights schools.

An artist’s rendering of Ocean Discovery Institute’s Living Lab, which is planned to be built on the rim of Manzanita Canyon and within walking distance of several City Heights schools.

Construction on a long-awaited, state-of-the-art, science education center focusing on the local ecosystem could begin by year’s end, thanks to a recent $1 million matching grant by a charitable foundation.

The Ocean Discovery Institute has raised $13 million of the $14 million needed to start construction of the “Living Lab” at the lip of Manzanita Canyon in City Heights, and officials are hopeful they can secure the final $1 million by the end of August. The recent $1 million grant by the Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation stipulates that it be matched by Aug. 31.

“We are incredibly close to bringing the vision of the Living Lab to fruition for 20,000 young people in City Heights,” said Ocean Discovery Institute Executive Director Shara Fisler. “We’re very confident that we will be able to match this generous grant from the Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation.”

Walter Zable was the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of the Cubic Corp., which supplies military defense equipment and automated fare collection systems for public transit systems across the world. Today, San Diego-based Cubic Corp. is a $1 billion-plus engineering giant with some 8,000 workers.

Zable and his wife, Betty, were also philanthropists who donated $10 million in 1990 to their alma mater, the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity to support Ocean Discovery Institute in such a meaningful way,” said Warren Magill, president of the foundation. “By supporting the Living Lab, the Walter J. & Betty C. Zable Foundation is making a significant difference for young people in need of opportunity while strengthening San Diego’s scientific workforce. While we were considering this grant, another board member remarked that this project would have been something that ‘Walt would have loved.’ I couldn’t agree more.”

The Living Lab is envisioned as a 12,000-square-foot, cutting-edge facility with 35,000 square feet of outdoor, natural features in Manzanita Canyon. The facility will be built within walking distance for thousands of students, and could open by December 2016.

Ocean Discovery Institute uses science to help students from diverse backgrounds become scientific and environmental leaders.

San Diego Unified School District has committed $8 million to help build the lab through
its $2.8 billion, Proposition Z bond measure. It also will pay architect Rob Wellington Quigley – a noted local figure who crafted plans for the new, domed Central Library in downtown San Diego’s East Village – to design the center.

The Living Lab is expected to play a crucial role in boosting the academic performance of City Heights’ youth. Roughly eight of every 10 graduates from the Ocean Discovery Institute’s Ocean Leaders program went on to enroll at a four-year college or university. Included in the Ocean Leaders effort are research trips to the Sea of Cortez in Baja California.