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Museum of Science made great strides during Mortensen’s eight years as leader

Mark Mortensen is stepping down as president and chief executive officer at the Buffalo Museum of Science for a job with the same title with Grand Resort Corp., owned by the Hualapai tribe, which operates visitor attractions in Peach Springs, Ariz. He leaves Sept. 30.

We’re happy for him. Sad for us.

In his eight years as leader, Mortensen has transformed the Science Museum experience.

What was once a staid, overly serious repository for artifacts houses interactive displays that kids and kids-at-heart could manipulate, test and learn from. Such things as a crash test simulator and gravity machine.

But Mortensen was not focused just on modern technology. A few years ago, two towering new “residents” arrived in the form of life-size casts of a 12-foot-tall mastodon and a 26-foot-long Albertosaurus.

Crowds were again drawn to the museum, where there was something new to see, feel and oftentimes gasp at in wonderment. But perhaps never as much as in 2009 when the museum hosted “Body Worlds & the Story of the Heart.”

This controversial exhibition featuring an array of preserved human cadavers set daily attendance records.

Mortensen, a former Disney operations and finance officer, once told The News that his first five years with Disney “were really entrenched in the attraction model … The museum to me is an attraction model.”

He has reconnected the museum with the community and is instilling a sense of ownership. Under Mortensen the Science Museum began a capital improvement fund drive that has raised $6.1 million of its $7.2 million goal. A $1.5 million project to refurbish the iconic copper-topped observatory is underway. He has reduced the museum’s reliance on the endowment for funding operations, allowing it to be used more for creating new experiences.

Christopher Hogan, the chairman of the board of managers of the Buffalo Society of Natural Sciences, which oversees the museum and Tifft Nature Preserve, expressed appreciation for a job well done in bringing “great financial stability” to the institutions.

Tifft is also experiencing more demand. Up next, an additional exhibit component and improvements to parking and water management. About half of the needed $2.5 million has been raised.

Mortensen is returning to his home state after transforming the Museum of Science with his energy and creativity into a fascinating destination for visitors.