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Da Vinci Science Center plans new building in Allentown


Kathryn Finegan Clark

The Da Vinci Science Center will be moving to downtown Allentown after outgrowing its nearly 30-year home on the campus of Cedar Crest College.

During a virtual press conference, Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO, unveiled architectural renderings of the 67,000-square-foot facility to be constructed at Hamilton Boulevard and Eighth Street.

The new science center will triple the space of the current facility and its three stories will offer 30,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Designed by MKSD Architects, it will be called the Da Vinci Science Center at the PPL Pavilion. The Allentown-based company is its title sponsor and has launched a fundraising campaign with a $72 million goal.

Erickson said, “We are reimagining what a science center and STEAM education will look like. This will be a regional center of excellence for STEAM education, serving as a community hub and conduit for STEM careers, while inspiring curiosity in visitors of all ages through immersive experiences.”

(STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEAM adds Art to the mix.)

Vincent Sorgi, PPL president and CEO, said, “One of the benefits of locating the new center in Downtown Allentown is that it is within walking distance for thousands of students who live nearby.”

Sorgi chairs the campaign leadership committee, which has raised $37 million, a bit over half of its goal. Sorgi and his wife, Michelle, have already made a leadership gift to support the STEAM Learning Center that will support free admission for area students in need. Sorgi is a former chairman of the nonprofit science center’s board of directors.

Plans are underway to break ground next spring and to open the center in 2024.

The exhibits will include the following:

Curiosity Hall, with Leonardo’s 60-foot-tall Vitruvian Man as its focal point, will celebrate the human body and mind and will offer interactive opportunities;

The My Body exhibit will also feature interactive exhibits that explain how the human body works and how to keep it in good health;

The Lehigh River Watershed has been developed in partnership with the Wildlands Conservancy and will surround visitors with local flora and fauna and will feature North American river otters;

Science in the Making will engage visitors in exploring scientific principles and their application in manufacturing processes with a focus on career opportunities.

Erickson said, “Public funding is critical to this project and thus far our local government and community leaders have been extremely supportive.”

Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell, said “The City of Allentown is pleased to support the project because it is another great example of how the city continues to move forward. It will have a positive economic impact, attracting visitors to our downtown and more important will be a major educational resource.”

The new facility is expected to enhance tourism, drawing more than 400,000 visitors annually. In contrast, the present Da Vinci Center sees about 150,000 participants each year as it “brings science to life and life to science,” making science fun and approachable, connecting people of all ages with its wonders.

The new location will also help to reduce the barriers for the more than 50,000 low-to-moderate income residents who live within one mile’s walking distance of the center.

Officials at the Da Vinci Center decided to build a larger facility after attendance at the Cedar Crest site increased 70 per cent between 2009 and 2015. A larger complex previously was considered for an Easton location but plans for that were scrapped months ago.

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