By Jeremy Harrow
Despite citywide budget cuts, this year the New York Hall of Science will receive $3.2 million in discretionary capital funding from Queens Borough President Helen Marshall that was recently approved by the New York City Office of Management and Budget according to Dan Andrews, the president’s spokesman.
The approved funds are part of a $5 million allocation by Marshall’s office for the Queens museum’s ongoing 55,000-square-foot expansion of their Flushing Meadows Corona Park facility.
Andrews called it a “welcome approval” in the face of the drastic budget cuts that have permeated through every city agency lately. “We are very grateful that we can go ahead to get these additions in the Hall accomplished,” he said.
The ambitious expansion will result in a new wing called Science City that is expected to cost $68 million overall and will likely open to the public in early 2005, according to Harold Chapnick, deputy director of internal affairs at the museum.
Chapnick said $48 million has already been guaranteed and the Hall is currently engaged in a fundraising campaign for the balance.
Funding for the project has come from a variety of sources, according to Chapnick, including grants, private contributions, the federal government (through the National Science Foundation), the City Council, the Mayor, and the Queens Borough President’s office, who he described as their biggest overall benefactor.
“We are more than grateful, they are immense contributors,” he said, referring not only to Marshall, but to the Claire Shulman administration as well. The construction is 50 percent complete according to Chapnick and “it’s going to be a great new wing.”
Science City, when it’s completed, will contain five major exhibits to delight and entertain the approximately 275,000 annual visitors, many of whom are small children with big imaginations.
“Extraterrestrial Life” will be a way for people to check out life in extreme environments on Earth and learn how scientists are searching the universe for other life forms.
The “Early Childhood Curiosity Center” will examine how young children learn through the latest research.
“Connections” will allow everyone to see how networks have changed the way people live and also give visitors the opportunity to connect with others around the world.
“Science of Sport” will be fun and hands-on to show the scientific principles that are a part of sports.
Last, but not least, will be “Art and Technology,” a collection of classics and newly commissioned pieces.
The vision guiding the new architecture was that “science is cool, science is very cool,” according to Todd Schliemann, a partner with the firm Polshek Partners Architects, and one of Science City’s designers. The new gallery space, he said, was the product of studying how people circulate so that they should be “naturally drawn by inquiry.”
Besides the expansion, renovation work is also being done on the science center’s Rocket Park and the Science Playground to make them even more visitor friendly.
“The nationally acclaimed Hall — with its 225 hands-on exhibits — is one of the premier attractions in Queens County,” the borough president said. She has kept her promise to back that statement in funding.