Living Coast Discovery Center will remain open

Center met its $200,000 budget shortfall

CHULA VISTA, Calif. - The Living Coast Discovery Center will remain open after it was in danger of closing because of a $200,000 budget shortfall when grants did not come in on time.

On Monday, Center officials announced it had raised $401,000 to keep their doors open.

"I about fell out of my chair," said Chief Operating Officer Ben Vallejos, who tallied up the final total Sunday.

But thanks to donations and fundraisers, the center reached its goal and will stay open.

The former Chula Vista Nature Center has been on hard times since the city of Chula Vista threatened to close it in 2009. A nonprofit took over and changed the name to Living Coast Discovery Center.

Vallejos said the Nature Center regularly lost $775,000 to $1 million a year when the city was in charge. When the nonprofit took over, Vallejos said it was still losing about $200,000 a year.

"There was a lot of growing pains," he said. "We knew we had to do something different."

The board threw out their business plan and started a new one with input from the Port of San Diego, city of Chula Vista, and the San Diego Zoo.

The new business model includes hiring a full-time fundraiser who will be charged with generating at least $600,000 a year through grants and donations.

Now, the staff of 11 and a handful of volunteers can continue to teach the public about wildlife preservation.

To celebrate, the drawings of children who worked to keep the center open are on display in the center's main walkway.

Also featured is a wall of love, which has notes from visitors who had faith the center doors would remain open.

Sherry Lankston, who is with the center, told 10News, "It's been a wonderful, amazing experience that really brings back your faith in humanity."

It is great news for Sandy Weber and her son Erik, who is autistic. They use the center as a form of therapy.

"It's wonderful to have a place like this for children to come and be able to see things in their natural habitat," said Weber. "For some people, this is all they can get to."

For Belinda Harrison and Ava, who were visiting from Australia, news about the center's potential closure was enough to make them really appreciate all that it has to offer.

"It's sad because these guys aren't going to get that experience when you can go somewhere like this and learn about it," said Harrison.

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