Carnegie Science Center expanding exhibit capacity
Carnegie Science Center is pumping $26 million into a 37,000-square-foot expansion that museum officials say will draw world-renowned exhibits that no institution in the city has the capacity to host.
Pittsburgh's most-visited museum has raised enough money to break ground this fall on the Science Pavilion, a three-story addition featuring learning labs and room for a special exhibitions gallery.
The new wing — set for completion in mid-2018 — will wrap around a portion of the science center's semi-circle facade along the Ohio River. Work will include trail-friendly improvements to the stretch of riverfront bordering its building between Heinz Field and Rivers Casino.
“What we're trying to do is to bring to Pittsburgh some of the great exhibitions that are traveling North America but never come here,” said Ron Baillie, co-director of Carnegie Science Center.
“They go to Philadelphia or D.C., and it's simply because there is no organization in Pittsburgh that has a gallery large enough and is structured in such a way that it can support these large exhibits in a climate-controlled way with the educational programs and the staffing to support them.”
Among widely popular traveling shows that Baillie says existing Pittsburgh museums cannot accommodate: The Discovery of King Tut; Dead Sea Scrolls: The Exhibition; and MythBusters: The Explosive Exhibition, which is on display at Imagination Station in Toledo, Ohio, through April 29 before heading to Space Center Houston.
Along with expanding the center's capacity and reach, the addition will “create a more sustainable business model for the science center going forward,” Baillie said.
That's because large-scale traveling exhibits have proved to be big visitor draws. The center experienced a 50 percent boost in attendance, for instance, while hosting a blockbuster showcase, Bodies: The Exhibition, in 2007-08.
Funding for the Science Pavilion's construction and programming comes from a fundraising effort that began in late 2014, dubbed “SPARK! A Campaign for Carnegie Science Center.”
The center has raised $26.5 million, or 77 percent of its $34.5 million goal. Donations have poured in from more than 120 foundations, corporations and individual donors.
The funding boom follows seven years of balanced or surplus budgets and modest upticks in attendance at the science museum, Baillie said. The center logged more than 500,000 visits last year, and reached more than 170,000 students and teachers through educational outreach.
Carnegie Science Center has a $14 million budget and 200 employees.
It gets about 60 percent of its support through earned revenue, Baillie said. Its parent organization, Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh — which includes the side-by-side art and history Carnegie museums in Oakland and Andy Warhol Museum in the North Side — has received $50.6 million in taxpayer-funded grants from the Allegheny Regional Asset District since 1995.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or firstname.lastname@example.org.