By James D’Elia & Sasha Podzorov
Plans for a revamped Long Island Science Center were rolled out by the town of Riverhead at a press conference on Feb. 14, 2020.
The announcement is part of the Riverhead town government’s initiative to revitalize the area around the Peconic Riverwalk, including building a modern town square. For the Long Island Science Center, the move into a newer, larger space has always been a part of a long-term expansion strategy since it opened in January 2019.
“When people walk in [to the Science Center], sometimes they look and see that it’s very small,” Cailin Kaller, the center’s executive director said. “The Science Center has always known that this space was going to be a temporary space for us.”
The center will move to the two-story, former Swezey’s Home Furnishings department store building on Main Street as its new site. The location will provide more room for exhibits, including a planned Long Island Innovation Heritage exhibit, which would showcase different inventions, discoveries, and technological innovations from Long Island in an interactive experience.
The current center’s exhibits consist of virtual and augmented reality, 3D art and printing and an engineering zone, implementing most, if not all the aspects of a STEM based learning experience. The new and advanced Science Center will allow for even more displays and interactions for its visitors, while also bringing over the current exhibits.
“I really do think Riverhead will benefit from these changes,” Annette Walters, 35, of Riverhead said. “There’s already two great attractions here, and hopefully the project that the Science Center and the government are working on will make Riverhead more inviting to more people.”
The center received a $775,000 grant in December 2019 through the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council to move to the former Swezey’s site to support the expansion and give the center the opportunity to broaden its STEM programs.
The town of Riverhead’s ambition is that the Main Street location, along with the new town square, will allow visitors to stay in the area after visiting popular attractions like the Science Center.
“We really feel that the Long Island Science Center’s decision to renovate a blighted, vacant building and to have their facility front on the Town Square is a game changer,” Riverhead Community Development Administrator Dawn Thomas said. “Having a vibrant, family centric learning center here in Riverhead is amazing, but having it work with the Town Square will really ignite the revitalization of the area.”
Officials at the town of Riverhead and Suffolk County aren’t the only areas who think the project will be beneficial. Hillary Olson, the President and CEO of the Rochester Museum and Science Center, believes the expansion plan can work if done right.
“Adding to the cultural landscape of a region is essential to retain and attract residents, and there are the more obvious economic impacts of building, staffing, tourism revenue, etc.,” Olson told The Osprey. ”Science centers also have great opportunities to be the conveners of community conversations around science topics that are important to the region.”
The Long Island Science Center’s goal is to move into its location by the beginning of 2021.