21/04/2021 - 08:00

Palandri maps Scitech future

21/04/2021 - 08:00

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Finding Scitech a new home is top of the list for new chair Chris Palandri.

Palandri maps Scitech future
Chris Palandri was appointed Scitech chair six months ago. Photo: David Henry

Scitech chair Chris Palandri says there is a lot more to Western Australia’s science centre than people realise.

While many people tended to associate Scitech with exhibitions, Mr Palandri said, much of the not for profit’s work occurred behind the scenes.

“The multifaceted aspect of Scitech fascinates me; the bit that people see, recognise and understand is the science centre, but that’s just the beginning,” said Mr Palandri, who was appointed to the board in 2019 and named chair when Tony Joyner stepped down late last year.

“You open Scitech up and it’s layer upon layer of activity that touches all parts of the state, and all of it is dreamed up and built right here in Perth.”

Among the work that goes largely unreported is Scitech’s outreach program, which visits every remote and regional school in the state at least once every three years in the hope of encouraging students to take an interest in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects.

It trains teachers to teach STEM subjects, reaching 1,922 engagements with teachers and pre-service teachers in 2019-20.

The organisation employs a team of about 50 engineers, robotics experts, industrial designers, welders, carpenters, animation makers and content creators to build all the exhibitions on display at the science centre.

“Everything we are taking out to the communities is designed and built by Scitech in WA,” Mr Palandri told Business News.

“We don’t outsource any of that, it all gets done in-house by Scitech.”

Once an exhibition has a run in WA, it then can travel around the world to science centres in the Middle East, US, Asia and New Zealand.

Scitech isn’t this tiny little thing happening in WA; it has a big impact in WA but it’s also having an impact in science centres around the world,” Mr Palandri said.

“It’s pretty unique.

“We don’t think there’s really any science centres in the world that do it as comprehensively as Scitech does in WA.”

He said it was Scitech’s multifaceted nature that drew him to the role of chair.

Mr Palandri, who runs construction company Multiplex’s WA operations, does not have a strictly STEM background.

He started working for Multiplex in 1990 after graduating from Curtin University with a commerce degree.

Beginning as a crane coordinator, Mr Palandri worked his way up and was appointed regional managing director, construction development, in 2010.

Mr Palandri said he had seen the importance of STEM degrees in construction.

“In the construction industry, we rely heavily on engineers, consulting engineers and the like to help us with the design and delivery of our buildings, and many people who are involved with the delivery of our buildings have STEM backgrounds,” he said.

Mr Palandri even suggested many of the world’s pressing issues could be solved with STEM knowledge.

“In terms of my green bent in life, engineers, STEM, science, technology is what’s going to move the needle on us ensuring that we don’t continue to destroy the planet in front of our eyes,” he said.

“The solutions are out there, we just need to have more people concentrating on them, focusing on them and finding solutions.”

One of Mr Palandri’s first jobs as chair is to find a new home for Scitech.

A new location for the organisation has been a topic of discussion for the past few years, with former premier Colin Barnett announcing in 2016 that Scitech would move into the Perth Cultural Centre by 2021.

That move failed to eventuate, however.

In 2019, Scitech announced expressions of interest were being sought from the private sector for property options within the Perth CBD.

Mr Palandri said a study of possible sites had been completed prior to the recent state election but a final decision had not been made.

“It’s been a bit of a football for a while, it’s been kicked around for quite some time,” he said.

“It’s not solved yet. We are still in discussions with the government and are hopeful that we will be able to continue the work done pre-election and get an outcome we can pursue over the next period of time.”

Mr Palandri said options under consideration were in the Perth CBD, close to public transport, and had passing foot traffic to increase visitation.

“There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this [current site] but we think we could consolidate our space a bit more, modernise what we are doing, be in a more central location and be more easily accessible to a wider group of people, which is really what this is all about,” he said.

Mr Palandri didn’t rule out the Perth Cultural Centre as an option but said it would require more funds to renovate existing spaces.

Engagement

Another focus was growing corporate sponsorship to increase Scitech’s outreach programs, he said, as well as boosting visitation and exposing students to STEM subjects.

In 2019-2020, Scitech received $2.6 million from corporate sponsors, $2 million from exhibitions, $2.5 million from visitor spend at the science centre and $9.5 million from the state government, a majority of which was from the Department of Jobs Tourism, Science and Innovation.

“We have a great panel of sponsors at the moment – Shell, Chevron, Rio, Woodside, Alcoa – it’s the who’s who of WA companies and we think we have got a great ability to attract more,” Mr Palandri said.

Scitech had its biggest February visitor numbers on record this year, with 28,100 coming through the doors, before it closed due to COVID-19 restrictions and reopened in July.

“But we would like Scitech to be available to more people yet,” Mr Palandri said.

“One of our priorities will be to expand our reach and get out to more communities even more often, so we can have a greater influence on more people.”

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