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When the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair ended, the fair’s Science Pavilion was turned into the nonprofit Pacific Science Center, becoming the first U.S. museum founded as a science and technology center. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

The Pacific Science Center, a storied Seattle institution that hosts educational events and operates two IMAX theaters, laid off more than 300 people as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The center closed March 12, following social distancing mandates issued by Gov. Jay Inslee and King County. Given the uncertainty about a potential reopen date, the nonprofit decided to lay off most of its employees Thursday.

Coronavirus Live Updates: The latest COVID-19 developments in Seattle and the world of tech

“This was very painful for all us,” Pacific Science Center CEO Will Daugherty told GeekWire on Friday.

Government orders are forcing businesses to shut down and heavily cut staff across the Seattle region, the initial epicenter of the U.S. COVID-19 outbreak. Seattle tech startups are already reducing their workforces.

Will Daugherty. (Pacific Science Center Photo)

Daugherty said the center does not have the financial resources to pay employees during the closure. It will continue paying all full- and part-time employees for their scheduled hours through March 25.

A small team will continue doing the “minimum work required to sustain the Science Center until we can reopen,” Daugherty said. That includes securing the facility; caring for animals; fundraising; and helping run its digital programming. Daugherty will host a virtual coronavirus panel with local health experts next Tuesday, March 24 at 7 p.m. PT.

“That event is one example of the ways that we are doing everything possible to continue serving our community online,” Daugherty said. “Our facility is closed, which means our revenue is going taking a big hit and we cannot afford to continue paying the full team. But curiosity never closes. We will experiment and innovate during this time in service of our mission to ignite curiosity and fuel a passion for discovery, experimentation, and critical thinking. All of which is more important than ever.”

The center, originally built as part of Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair, is also regularly updating its site with science demos and experiments to do at home.

Daugherty joined the Science Center more than four years ago after stints with McKinsey, AT&T, Expedia, Amazon, and other companies. He said the work at the center is more important than ever, noting how Inslee and other government leaders are frequently using the word “science” when talking publicly about the novel coronavirus.

“Science and an informed public are humanity’s best hopes in facing COVID-19, climate change, and other threats,” the CEO said.

Daugherty has applied a lean, risk-taking, startup mentality to the center’s operation. He’s welcomed actual startups onto the 7-acre campus where they share the entrepreneurial process with visiting kids and families, and has experimented with hosting public speakers and events, creating a communal “living room for science and technology.”

“We are profoundly grateful for the extraordinary contributions that each employee, volunteer, and intern has made to PacSci and the work to we do to serve the community,” Daugherty said. “We very much appreciate the support of our members, guests, partners, and donors. We look forward to reopening as soon as conditions permit.”

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