A fundraising effort is underway to support plans to renovate, modernize and expand a key portion of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab (DISL), Alabama’s primary marine education and research center for K-12, undergraduate and graduate students across the state.
The DISL, in conjunction with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Foundation, launched last month a capital fundraising campaign called “Building Spaces for a Brighter Future.” DISL Executive Director John Valentine says the campaign is seeking money to build a new multi-purpose outdoor classroom and renovate the educational pool.
“The pool and that area the pool is in was constructed in the late 1950s and the 1960s,” Valentine said. “Hurricanes, the sun, the weather – all those things that are hard on facilities on a Gulf coast have caught up to that pool. It’s also not a very big pool and it’s not very functional in terms of how much our program has grown. We need to address that.”
Valentine says the new pool will be 24 feet wide, 75 feet long and up to 10 feet deep, giving students plenty of space and depth to learn rescue swimming and how to execute scientific scuba diving.
“The scuba diving is a big deal,” Valentine said. “We take kids all the way from learning how to snorkel to deep sea diving. But before we can take them out into the open ocean – which is a challenging environment to dive in on a good day – we have to know that they are familiar with their equipment, that they know the emergency procedures that they need to take and that they can execute those training modules.”
The pool will also give other students more space to build and “fly” remotely operated vehicles (ROVs), a growing curriculum among classroom teachers and educators who incorporate science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in their classrooms and in after-school team programs.
“What we will predominately use this project for is for ROV competitions and training,” Valentine said. “Young children come from 67 counties around the state to build and drive their own ROV.”
Parallel to the pool renovation and expansion is the creation of a new outdoor classroom. Valentine says the facility would provide students a hands-on learning environment and some much-needed storage for classroom materials frequently transported to and from the pool.
“Architects have designed a fabulous classroom,” Valentine said. “Kids from all ages – kindergarten all the way up to folks whose hair is white and thin like mine – can be out in nature and get classroom instruction, both in terms of high-tech classroom instruction and hands-on training.”
Among the initial financial supporters is the Alabama Power Foundation. Patrick Murphy, vice president of Alabama Power’s Mobile Division, says the company is happy to support the project.
“Alabama Power’s partnership with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab goes back many years, and we’ve been a great supporter of what they use those facilities for,” Murphy said. “The educational opportunities they provide for youngsters and college-age kids is really phenomenal. It’s an impressive campus and this scientific pool will be used for further education down the road.”
Valentine said he appreciates Alabama Power’s support.
“It’s heartening to see,” he said. “We’ve come from an old Air Force base with cinder block construction and galvanized metal. We’ve reached that point where we have to modernize. We have to get up to building code. This is one of several key steps that we are taking, and the fact that we could get statewide support from foundations and donors to pull this off tells me that we’re finally sitting on the precipice of some really great new things that we can do for the state. The gift from Alabama Power helps us get there.”