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Da Vinci Science Center offers first look at soon-to-be state-of-the-art facility

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown School District officials on Tuesday got a sneak peek of the new downtown Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion, which is set to welcome hundreds of thousands of visitors each year — and offer a unique learning opportunity for city students.

Construction crews are making quick progress on the $80 million, 67,000-square-foot facility in the 800 block of Hamilton Street ahead of its planned opening this spring.

Science center officials are not offering tours to many, but threw open the Da Vinci Center’s doors for school district officials, including Superintendent Carol Birks and members of the district’s steering committee for its partnership with the museum.

LehighValleyNews.com also was invited to see the soon-to-be state-of-the-art facility, which will dwarf the current Da Vinci Science Center on Cedar Crest College’s campus.

The new facility will have about three times as much space, Director of Education Karen Knecht said.

The current Da Vinci Science Center is “really geared more for young children,” Chief Executive Officer Lin Erickson said.

But the new center will reach “a totally different scale” by offering exhibits and programs for people of all ages.

The Da Vinci Science Center’s exhibits will be “on par with the kinds of experiences that you get in major metropolitan areas,” Erickson said.

Officials are banking on the new center becoming a major attraction, projecting it will draw about 400,000 visitors from within 100 miles of Allentown each year.

'An amazing opportunity'

Among the building’s many planned features are a science-themed theater, space for several traveling exhibits and a Lehigh River Watershed exhibit that will be home to four North American otters.

The center is set to feature “an interactive and immersive space,” known as Curiosity Hall, that will explore Leonardo Da Vinci’s legacy as an inventor, scientist and artist, officials said on Tuesday’s tour.

“This is going to be an amazing opportunity for learning for all of our schools."
Carol Birks, Allentown School District superintendent

That area of the center has walls that are higher than 50 feet, and visitors could see themselves projected larger-than-life on them while walking through the center, according to Director of Construction & Facilities Mark Toro, who led the tour with Erickson.

The center also will have a gallery known as "Science in the Making” to explore science and manufacturing in the Lehigh Valley.

Theme park design companies are working on an exhibit called “My Body” that will let visitors climb up “intestines” to look at features examining the human heart and brain, officials said on the tour.

Amid all that will be happening on the top two floors, plans for the building’s bottom floor had science center and school district officials most excited Tuesday.

The Da Vinci Science Center entered a six-year agreement with Allentown School District for the facility to serve as a STREAM Academy — Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, Art and Mathematics — and secondary campus for Central Elementary School students.

Both organizations’ leaders beamed after the tour as they spoke of their excitement for what was to come.

The science center will encourage students to learn in a “very innovative way” by teaching them to explore their surroundings and “solve problems related to science and the environment,” Superintendent Birks said.

“This is going to be an amazing opportunity for learning for all of our schools,” she said.