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Sexton: Odd 'exhibit' at Winston-Salem science museum is no power pirate but it can blow by Camaros

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By Scott Sexton Winston-Salem Journal

11 Apr 2017

 

James Jessup is a curious sort. He likes to know how his hard-earned money — tax dollars specifically — gets spent.

And he’s unafraid to ask questions if he feels something’s amiss.

 

That’s how we wound up speaking. I’ve been known to be a kindred crank about tax money, so when Jessup phoned to ask about what appears to be a power-pirate at work outside the Kaleideum science museum, his call wound up here.

 

At issue was a Smart car, one of those little bitty ones, that Jessup noticed had been plugged into a power pole in the parking lot. He’d placed a call to Paul Kortenaar, an executive director at Kaleideum, but he hadn’t heard back.

 

“It looks jury-rigged, like somebody is stealing power,” he said. “No one would go open up the plate on a light pole, unless you’re stupid, to run a 110 (volt cord) to charge a car. It just looks funny seeing an extension cord coming out of a pole like that.”

 

 

Since the north campus of Kaleideum — known as SciWorks until a recent rebranding/merger with The Children’s Museum of Winston-Salem — sits on property owned by Forsyth County, the next natural questions were: Do county officials know? Do they care?

 

A tiny car like that can’t possibly use much electricity. But somebody’s paying those light bills, so why not ask?

“We do fund SciWorks, just like the city does,” said Dudley Watts, the county manager. “We also own the building, so we have that dual role as funder and also as a landlord. But (one of the terms) of our lease is that they pay all the expenses of their building.”

 

That would include the power bill. So the next — probably best, in hindsight — step was to find Kortenaar and ask him.

It turns out that the Smart car plugged in out front is indeed his and he was more than happy to talk about the car, the plug, the museum and anything else.

 

“I’m sitting here at Starbucks reading a book,” said Kortenaar, an affable enough guy.

Kortenaar said he leased the Smart car “a year and a couple months ago” and drives it around town, mostly for work.

 

Since Kaleideum merged with The Children’s Museum and is planning a move into the old sheriff’s office, it makes sense that he needs to be mobile and efficient in doing so. Kaleideum’s board of directors is well aware that he charges the car at work, and that it adds (slightly) to the monthly bill.

 

“It’s roughly equivalent to paying for mileage, except that it’s much cheaper,” Kortenaar said, referring to a standard business practice for millions of Americans and their employers.

Using round figures, it costs about $150 to run the car for 5,000 miles. Mileage reimbursement for 5,000 miles in a gas-powered car, if you use the federally accepted standard of 54 cents per mile, comes out to $2,700.

 

Leasing a vehicle, another common executive-level perk, could easily run $300 a month. With those things in mind, running an outlet to a Smart car seems like a good deal for nonprofit board and for the local governments who help pay for it.

 

Plus, Kortenaar happily reports that it’s fast.

“I have great fun blowing away Camaros at stoplights,” he said.

Huh? How’s that again?

 

Kortenaar is a science guy, so he was ready to explain such an outlandish claim.

“Seriously, because it’s electric it has more torque at zero revolutions,” he said.

 

“It’s electric, so its acceleration is quite good,” he said.

The power comes instantly in an electric car, no need to wait for gasoline to convert to energy to turn the engine and crank up RPMs. (At least I think that’s what he said.)

 

“Plus, it’s light,” Kortenaar said. “Mostly plastic. Its maximum speed is about 70.”

But the car looks tiny. There’s no trunk space to speak of, and not much there to protect a person in case of collision.

 

“I don’t take it on the highway,” Kortenaar said.

Two grown-ups of up to Kortenaar’s size — he’s 6-feet, 4-inches tall — can fit inside comfortably.

 

Just the fact that people are asking questions about the Smart car is a further benefit to the museum. It can be used as a teaching tool before anyone even gets in the front door.

 

People have asked about it, but it’s not the ones you’d think. It’s the dads more than kids who notice.

“I like to think that one of the reasons I have it is so it can be used as an exhibit,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I chose this model. And I can plug it in a lamp stand at the house.”

 

As things turned out, Kortenaar did ring Jessup back later on to explain the same points. That helped.

 

“Maybe they need to put a sign up or something (explaining it),” Jessup said.

“It looks really peculiar sitting there like that.”

 

http://www.journalnow.com/news/columnists/scott_sexton/odd-museum-exhibit-is-no-power-pirate-but-can-blow/article_6c934d32-d95d-582c-9125-fd943491dee4.html

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