Big Ideas Learning, a subsidiary of Millcreek Township-based Larson Texts Inc., has pledged $100,000 over the next six years to help the Bayfront Maritime Center complete construction of its Porcupine schooner project and to provide maritime-themed math curriculum for onboard programming.
Rich Eisenberg, executive director of the Maritime Center, and Larson Texts CEO Matthew Totzke announced the partnership Friday morning during a news conference inside the Maritime Center’s boat room at 40 Holland St., where work on the Porcupine is ongoing.
When completed, the Porcupine, a historical representation of a War of 1812 square topsail schooner, will be known as The School Ship for Presque Isle Bay.′
Big Ideas Learning presented Eisenberg with a $25,000 check. Totzke said his company will donate an additional $25,000 to the Maritime Center in 2018, and continue its support with yearly donations of $10,000 from 2019 through 2023.
“In addition to the financial support, one of the things that was important to us was also to help with developing the curriculum because that’s our expertise and something we thought we could bring,″ Totzke said. “A lot of people can write the check, but not everyone can help make the programming as high quality as Rich wants it to be.″
Eisenberg said Maritime Center officials have raised more than $400,000 for the project but need additional funding to cover the project’s estimated $810,000 cost.
“This donation helps us a lot,″ Eisenberg said. “We’re still fundraising, we still need more to finish this. We’d like to be sailing in the spring of 2018. That’s an aggressive schedule, and I’m making no promises, but that’s what we’re shooting for. If we can raise enough money, that can happen. It’s aggressive.″
Staff and veteran shipwrights have been working since the spring of 2015 to transform a donated 40-foot fiberglass hull into the Porcupine’s envisioned primary role as a regional science, technology, engineering and math classroom for area students.
That science and technology vision is incorporated into its composition: fiberglass hull, steel keel and a wooden deck, wooden masts and mostly wooden interior.
“Rich and I probably started talking at the beginning of the year, and from the beginning we realized we have similar missions, where we’re really focused on the student, every student can learn, and they can learn through applying their knowledge through real world skills,″ Totzke said.
Larson Texts and Big Ideas Learning have produced math textbooks for students in sixth grade through college calculus for nearly four decades. They are used each year by about 5 million students.
The company was founded in 1978 by then-Penn State Behrend math professor Ron Larson and has been based since 2000 at its two-story, 25,000-square-foot facility, the former Belle Valley Elementary School, at 1762 Norcross Road.
Construction started in June on a $5 million project that will add a new four-story addition and additional 32,000 square feet to Larson Texts’ existing structure.
“In talking with Rich, I got really excited about the possibility of us being involved in a very real way in the Erie community with our expertise in education and with a partner that shares a lot of our ideas,″ Totzke said. “It was a no-brainer.″
Friday’s announcement comes on the heels of a recent $5,000 donation to the Maritime Center from the PNC Foundation to support construction.
Besides its primary function as a floating classroom offering half-day or full-day sails for schoolchildren, the Porcupine also will conduct overnight programs, public sails, private charters and special programming.
The twin-masted Porcupine will be 43 feet in length on its deck and a maximum 15 feet 2 inches wide. Its sparred length, from the bowsprit to the back of its main boom, is 62 feet. The vessel’s draft is 5 feet 4 inches.
A 7,800-pound keel was welded to the hull in the past year.
Shipwrights have changed the shape of the Porcupine’s bow, stem and transom, installed a rudder, and have raised the freeboard, giving the vessel more height above the waterline as well as additional internal room and more deck space.
The original gunboat Porcupine was built under the direction of Daniel Dobbins in the spring of 1813 near the foot of present-day Sassafras Street. The Porcupine fought in the Battle of Lake Erie near Put-in-Bay, Ohio, in September 1813.
Kathy Palmerton, of Ravenna, Ohio, and her now late husband, Keith Palmerton, donated the Porcupine’s 40-foot fiberglass hull in September 2014 after learning about the center and its work with inner-city and underserved children.
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