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Carnegie Science Center expansion underway

| Monday, March 13, 2017, 2:57 p.m.
The sign atop the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore is partially dismantled on Monday, March 13, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
The sign atop the Carnegie Science Center on the North Shore is partially dismantled on Monday, March 13, 2017.

The colorful, highly visible letters sitting atop the Carnegie Science Center that spell the attraction's name are coming down — but, center officials say, visitors will love what is coming next year with the larger construction project.

The North Side center this week is taking down the 12-foot-high letters, there since 2000; demolishing the building around the stairwell that served the lobby of the Omnimax theater; and erecting new steel beams. This is an initial phase in a $34.5-million expansion project that includes a new, four-story Science Pavilion and a new-and-improved movie theater where IMAX and other films will show, officials say.

And don't worry: the iconic E-Motion Cone on the roof is staying put, says Ann Metzger, Henry J. Buhl co-director of the center along with Ron Baillie. And hopefully, the new Science Pavilion will have its own set of big letters on top, she says.

The new pavilion — which will stand on the river side of the center, and is set to open in June 2018 — will wrap around the existing Omnimax structure, Metzger says. The ground floor will contain nine new STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) learning labs, five of which will open up to the outside. The second and third floors will offer 14,000 square feet to display traveling exhibits. The center would put in this space exhibits — like the ones on Bodies and the Titanic in recent years — that used to be housed at a building across the street, she says. That building came down for the T rail station.

The Science Pavilion's fourth floor, called PointView Hall, will offer space for private events with a great view of the city, Metzger says.

The popular Omnimax Theater, which shows IMAX and some other movies, may seem modern, but its technology is 25 years old, Baillie says. Replacing the theater, which will close in August, is the Rangos Giant Screen, a new digital screen set to open in November. This new theater will have Dolby Atmos sound system, and a flat screen with a slight curve rather than a dome.

“It will be a really extraordinary screen — really, the most advanced sound system in the world,” Metzger says. “It is every bit as immersive as the existing technology, with a much clearer picture and much better sound.”

The new theater will have a broader use, Baillie says. In addition to showing films, it will host live streaming of events like sports and lectures. Although the new theater will have 3D rather than 4D effects, the sound will be so strong that if, say, you were watching a space shuttle launch, you could feel the vibration in your seat, Baillie says.

Center officials have raised the millions for the project — which also includes expanding the River View Café and enhancing some existing exhibits — during the past two years, Metzger says. Donations from foundations, corporations and individuals provided the funding, she says.

Kellie B. Gormly is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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