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Federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice speaks at a news conference at the Telus World of Science in Calgary on Friday. ((CBC))

The federal government, which is contributing $40 million to building Calgary's new science centre, hyped the project as a way to stimulate the economy.

The funding, first promised in last month's federal budget, was confirmed in a news conference Friday at the current science centre by Calgary MP and federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice.

Prentice said he's learned about the important of science centres from people he has met as a federal minister.

"I would meet young biologists and engineers and doctors. I would always say, 'Why did you decide to become a doctor?' And it generally came back to, 'It was because my parents, or my school, my teacher, my aunt, my uncle took me to the science centre,'" Prentice said.

The federal funding is part of infrastructure support announced in the January budget "to create jobs and stimulate the economy," a statement from the government of Canada said.

City has outgrown existing venue

The current Telus World of Science and Creative Kids Museum on the western edge of downtown Calgary is too small to accommodate growing numbers of visitors. Attendance has more than doubled to 304,000 visitors annually in the past decade.

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An artist's rendering of the new science centre to be located near the Calgary Zoo. ((Telus World of Science))

The new 12,000 square-metre facility will be located near the Calgary Zoo and boast four science pavilions, an exhibit hall and 500-seat theatre, at a projected cost of $160 million.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments have now each set aside $40 million for the project. Construction is expected to later this year.

The centre is responsible for raising the remaining $40 million in private donations. Jennifer Martin, CEO of the science centre, said nearly half has already been raised, and she is confident support will continue despite the economic downturn.

"Even in December, although we haven't announced it yet, we received a million and a half [dollar] donation from a major company here in town. So those signs of support are still there," she said. "Everybody's trying to understand what the economic situation is right now."