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Elementary School Class Winner Sees Big Dreams Realized As Massive New $1 Million Outdoor Exhibit Opens at Kansas City’s Science City

May 2, 2017

During Opening Ceremony of Simple Machines At Play, Burns & McDonnell Also Announces and Launches Next Battle of the Brains Competition

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (May 2, 2017) – Nine elementary students led a marching band and nearly 500 of their classmates and teachers into the grand opening of Science City’s first ever outdoor exhibit, Simple Machines At Play. The Mason Elementary students wanted their school with them to experience the interactive exhibit inspired by their winning proposal in the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains, one of the nation’s most unique K-12 STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions.

“Seeing their faces light up when they saw their classroom sketches transformed into a million dollar exhibit at one of the nation’s premiere science centers - is truly a moment I will never forget,” Ray Kowalik, chairman and CEO, Burns & McDonnell, said. “It’s a privilege to be part of a process where children not only give STEM a chance – but discover it’s fun and cool. And they are treated like rock stars at their school!”

In November of 2015, the proposal from Mason Elementary in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, edged out 510 entries from 210 schools. The students won the top prize: a $50,000 grant for their school to use for STEM education, plus the opportunity to work alongside Burns & McDonnell professionals to design and construct Simple Machines At Play.

“We didn’t just win a competition. We won a chance to experience a variety of STEM careers for more than a year,” Jenny Reidlinger, teacher at Mason Elementary, said. “We visited Burns & Mac and Science City multiple times to help shape the design and construction process. I have no doubt that there are future STEM professionals in my class thanks to Battle of the Brains.” 

Simple Machines At Play is an all new, 12,000-square-foot outdoor exhibit based on the six simple machines, or mechanical devices, that have transformed our world by letting us do more work with less effort. By changing direction and the amount of force applied, simple machines help lift, pull, push, turn, cut, split and fasten.

“Additions of these substantial new interactive exhibits are truly transformational,” Bob Regnier, Board Chair, Union Station Kansas City, said. “With its location in the footprint of the Station’s original rail lines, this new outdoor Science City experience – adjacent to the new Haverty Family Yards -- further ensures a vibrancy to our Union Station.  And alongside the final stages of our massive Western Expansion Project, this grand opening is proof of a community that truly values investing in our collective future.”

Over the past nine years, Burns & McDonnell has invested nearly $6 million on six major exhibits that have transformed Science City. The Battle of the Brains competitions alone have attracted participation by 11,000 children from 50 area school districts.

“One big reason Science City is so unique and internationally recognized is we’re turning to our customers - children, parents and educators - to help shape their own experiences. In the case of Simple Machines at Play, it was student inspiration that helped transform their dream into this wonderful, one-of-a-kind exhibit,” George Guastello, president and CEO, Union Station Kansas City, said.  “Spanning more than 12,000 sqf, this newest creation represents the best in experiential learning and we can’t wait to welcome the entire community to enjoy it.”

With each Battle of the Brains exhibit opening, attendance to Science City has surged to new levels and invited more and more area and regional families to explore, discover and create.

“Since the opening of the first Battle of the Brains exhibit by Burns & McDonnell, Science City attendance has nearly doubled,” Jerry Baber, executive vice president & COO, Union Station, said.  “During that same time, Membership to Union Station – driven primarily by the benefit of unlimited annual visits to Science City – has grown by over 300%.  Those are impressive numbers and represent a significant number of young lives touched by top-tier STEM encounters.”

“With the opening of Simple Machines At Play, we’re taking the next big step to grow our internationally-awarded science center,” Regnier, said.  “And our most sincere appreciation goes to the entire Burns & McDonnell organization for their vision and investment in Science City and, more fundamentally, our area students.  This is truly an amazing gift to the Greater Kansas City community.”

With the new exhibit just hours old, Burns & McDonnell also surprised the gathered audience by announcing the launch of its fourth Battle of the Brains competition in the Kansas City area.

“We are committed to inspiring and developing the next generation of STEM professionals,” Kowalik, said. “From curing diseases to uncovering new technologies, STEM is critical to our future. That’s why we will never stop mentoring and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow.”

“With today’s opening, the excitement level was already high,” Guastello, said.  “Now, with the next Battle of the Brains competition announced, our future as a world-class, high-impact science center could not be brighter.  This is a really important day for area families and Burns & McDonnell deserves our most sincere appreciation for making it happen.  They epitomize the meaning of community involvement and investment.”

To learn more about the Burns & McDonnell Battle of the Brains competition and how area schools can participate, please visit




Union Station Kansas City -- a 501(c)3 non-profit organization -- is a 103-year-old historical landmark and celebrated civic asset renovated and reopened to the public in 1999. The organization -- dedicated to science education, celebration of community and preservation of history -- is home to Kansas City’s internationally-awarded Science City; the new Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium; the Regnier Extreme Screen Theatre; the popular Model Railroad Experience; H&R Block City Stage featuring live theater, and a selection of unique shops and restaurants. Union Station is also home to prominent area civic organizations and businesses, and regularly hosts world-class traveling exhibitions. Awarded “Top Banquet Facilities in KC” by KC Business Journal, the facility regularly hosts community events and private celebrations of all sizes. Visit for details. Also, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube.

About Burns & McDonnell

Burns & McDonnell is a family of companies made up of more than 5,700 engineers, architects, construction professionals, scientists, consultants and entrepreneurs with offices across the country and throughout the world. We strive to create amazing success for our clients and amazing careers for our employee-owners. Burns & McDonnell is 100 percent employee-owned and is proud to be No. 16 on Fortune’s 2017 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. For more information, visit


  • Lever Lift, a beam that moves around a fixed point or fulcrum.
  • It helps move a heavy load on one end when effort is applied to the other.  Kids can test their strength by trying to lift a globe — one that others can sit in — using different ropes hanging from the beam.
  • Just Plane Zippy, which has two exhilarating zip lines that double as inclined planes. Kids discover how applying force — in this case pushing off a platform — allows them to “zip” faster. 
  • Acceleration Plane, which invites kids to see how gravity works against friction by placing a variety of weighted wheels at the top of each ramp, then letting go.
  • The Wheel Deal, demonstrating how a wheel and axle make work easier. When you apply force, a wheel rotates on an axle, reducing friction to make it easier to move an object.
  • Pulley Power, featuring a rope looped around a wheel on an axle to pack a lot of power. By changing the direction of the force applied, you can lift a bowling ball with ease. Letting it go sends a tennis ball into the air.
  • Wedge It, a unique climbing wall demonstrating how wedges help lift or separate objects with less effort. Here, your hands and feet also serve as wedges when climbing.
  • Screw Slider, which lets kids discover the power behind the screws — the threads. The closer the threads, the easier it is to turn.
  • Luckey Climber, a unique climbing structure that doubles as sculptural art. It spans three stories and provides expansive views of the entire space. 

For additional support materials and photos, please visit the MEDIA KIT.