The nonprofit, which offers science, technology, engineering and math-based exhibits and programming for children, has seen a 70 percent increase in visitors since 2009, said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO for the Da Vinci Science Center.
However, the center’s location lacks the space it needs to add more programming, exhibits and services for patrons. Some of the largest traveling exhibits, such as Harry Potter or Mythbusters, can’t be hosted at the venue because of their size, she said.
However, the organization may stay put and expand on-site rather than locate elsewhere.
“We are exploring all kinds of options,” Erickson said. “This is all in the very early stages. The big driver in this is we have grown dramatically and we need more space.”
The center consistently attracts 85,000 to 100,000 visitors annually, she said. The center’s staff also brings activities and exhibits to schools and other organizations; through these outreach efforts, serves another 40,000 people annually, she said.
To add programming and exhibits, the center needs about four to five more acres, depending on whether parking is available, she said.
One of the attractions the center wants to add is an aquarium with a 500,000-gallon tank.
“Science centers are increasingly adding in live exhibits,” Erickson said. “The whole concept of living collections …we know that’s a way of engaging kids and parents. Aquariums also attract a lot of visitors.”
A theater is another potential addition.
From talking to visitors, Erickson said the center wants to create more opportunities for experiences that it cannot do with the space it has.
The center, which leases space from Cedar Crest College, also would like to increase its exhibits in the health and manufacturing fields.
“We have a lot of great manufacturers in the region and want to partner with local companies,” Erickson said. “All of the exhibits we introduce here will be part of a larger plan to either expand here or elsewhere.”
The center, which has 11,000 square feet of exhibit space and a total of 30,000 square foot in its building, cannot add floors because of the winged shape of the roof, she said. The center has a little space to expand north and east on-site.
The center is about 18 months from making an expansion decision, and several years before any development materializes. It first must determine if it can attract the attendance it needs to expand and raise the public funds to do so, which would be at least $15 million on the low end, she said.
The funding would come from local, state and possibly federal sources, she said.
While the Allentown site is short on space, it offers easy accessibility access to Interstate 78 and Route 22, Erickson said.
She said the center would like to stay in an urban area and that Allentown, Easton and Bethlehem all offer opportunities.
“We want to serve first and foremost, the Lehigh Valley,” Erickson said. “In order to get public money, we want to show we will draw a lot more from outside the Lehigh Valley. We want to draw from folks from a 50-mile radius.”