Bringing STEAM learning to Downtown Allentown

The Da Vinci Science Center is under construction at 8th and Hamilton streets in Allentown. PHOTO/COURTESY BARRY ISET & ASSOCIATES
The Da Vinci Science Center is under construction at 8th and Hamilton streets in Allentown. PHOTO/COURTESY BARRY ISET & ASSOCIATES –

The Da Vinci Science Center celebrated a major milestone with the groundbreaking of its new three-story, 67,000-square-foot facility in downtown Allentown last April, with an anticipated completion date in the spring of 2024.  

While the groundbreaking and ribbon cutting typically get the most fanfare, we’d like to call attention to some of the work that happens between these major milestones. 

Engineering work at the new site began in partnership with the project architect, MKSD architects, involving civil land development including design coordination and concept site plans, followed by land development and facilities planning, permitting, and construction coordination.  

Additionally, structural engineering was tasked with a unique request to include a 50-foot-tall interior courtyard which would serve as a central focal point and home for larger-than-life exhibits. 

Located at 8th & Hamilton Streets in downtown Allentown, the new science center will provide increased access for all with a special focus on downtown Allentown residents, at nearly triple the size of the existing space on Cedar Crest Boulevard.  

The Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion will serve as an educational hub for hands-on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) learning and career development.  

The new facility will be within walking distance for the thousands of students who live nearby, providing valuable STEAM learning opportunities for downtown residents as well as out-of-area visitors and school field trips. The $65 million dollar project is made possible with support from various federal, state, and local programs in addition to private donations and sponsorships. 

In addition to the STEAM Learning Center, featured exhibits will include Science in the Making, allowing curious minds to explore scientific principles and their application in the manufacturing process with a focus on Lehigh Valley companies; Lehigh River Watershed, which will surround visitors with the flora and fauna of the Lehigh Valley in partnership with Wildlands Conservancy; and the My Body exhibit, featuring interactive installations celebrating the human body exploring how it works, in partnership with Lehigh Valley Health Network.  

At the core of the Da Vinci Science Center at PPL Pavilion is the grand courtyard spanning all three floors acting as the central hub of the building. The center will also allow space for temporary traveling exhibits. 

Barry Isett & Associates Inc.  is working alongside MKSD Architects; Alvin H. Butz, the construction manager; and other partners for various services on the project.  

Isett’s engineering and consulting services include civil and structural engineering, environmental consulting, landscape architecture, and survey. As a multi-discipline firm with numerous in-house capabilities, Isett is able to provide single-source engineering and start-to-finish project involvement to streamline the completion of the project. 


Chris Williams is civil operations manager for the Lehigh Valley office of Barry Isett & Associates. 


Lehigh, Lancaster workforce programs get boost from state

Members of the Manufacturing Resource Center’s Lehigh Valley PA Dream Team. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


The Manufacturers Resource Center of the Lehigh Valley has received $192,500 in funding to develop two programs to improve technical education to fuel the manufacturing industry’s innovation needs.

It was one of two recipients of funding through the state’s Manufacturing Training-to-Career program, which aims to boost awareness of careers within Pennsylvania’s manufacturing industry and support companies is identifying and training a skilled workforce through targeted programs and services.

Lancaster County Career and Technology Foundation (LCCTF) was approved for $187,000 in funding.

The MRC will use the funds to develop the STEAM program and the PA Dream Team program to engage and recruit potential future employees and provide on-the-job training following graduation.

The STEAM program will work with five local high schools and 10 local manufacturers and the PA Dream Team program will work with 12 local manufacturers in two pilot programs.

“MRC is eager to develop a program that gives high school students the opportunity to collaborate with area manufacturers and get the word out to graduating seniors about lucrative careers in advanced technology through the STEAM Club initiative,” said Karen Buck, MRC’s manager of workforce initiatives.

The funding for LCCTF will help the foundation work with volunteer committee LancasterMakes, to engage middle school students and increase awareness of manufacturing careers before students begin choosing high school pathways.

LancasterMakes will acquire professional services to support fundraising and marketing efforts and to increase participation availability for Manufacturing Day. The foundation aims to grow participation to 100 host companies and 5,000 host students by 2022.

“Our goal is to reach every middle schooler in Lancaster County to provide them with knowledge and experiences of the many career pathways in manufacturing,” said Jennifer Baker, executive director of the foundation. “This project will also allow us to strengthen partnerships with our local manufacturing businesses and provide them with opportunity to meet and engage with the county’s future workforce.”

Allentown Bridgeworks renovating space for STEAM education

R. Scott Unger, executive director of the AEDC, left, with Erin Hudson, marketing communications specialist and Jane George of the PPL Foundation, center. PHOTO/SUBMITTED


With the help of a $50,000 grant from the PPL Foundation, the Allentown Economic Development Corp. will be renovating its STEAM education makerspace at the Bridgeworks Enterprise Center business incubator.

The 3,420-square-foot space is occupied by Make Lehigh Valley, a nonprofit providing students and adults with technical, scientific and artistic skills.

The renovated space includes upgraded electrical service to enable more extensive tools and equipment and a new HVAC system to allow for more comfortable temperature control.

It is the last space that had been unrenovated inside the 60,000-square-foot Bridgeworks since the AEDC first developed the building in 1989.

Once the renovation is complete, space will be divided into two separate units to increase functionality. AEDC will continue to lease approximately 50% of the space to Make Lehigh Valley to support on-going STEAM educational programming. The other roughly 50% of the space will be leased as Flex Office Space.

“The renovations will greatly expand the utility of our makerspace. Members and guests will be much more inclined to participate in projects and activities once the work is complete,” said Make Lehigh Valley Board President Scott Piccotti.

The PPL grant was originally awarded at the end of 2019. The onset of COVID-19 restrictions delayed permitting and construction jobs in early 2020. Project renovation began during the summer of 2020 once permits were in place and the tenant moved equipment out.

“We appreciate the continued support of AEDC’s mission by the PPL Foundation,” said AEDC Executive Director Scott Unger. “PPL understands the important role that economic development organizations play in supporting STEAM education and the manufacturing sector. By optimizing the makerspace inside the Bridgeworks facility, we can assist Make Lehigh Valley and other nonprofits address the STEAM skills gap.”

Da Vinci gets $5.6M loan for Allentown science center project

The Da Vinci Science Center’s plan to build a science and technology learning center in downtown Allentown received a $5.6 million funding boost from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Center officials called the HUD Section 108 loan a major milestone in the project’s development.

“We thank HUD and the City of Allentown for supporting our vision to create a 21st-century science center that will improve access to high-quality STEAM education, drive economic development, and enhance the quality of life for residents of the Lehigh Valley,” Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of the Da Vinci Science Center said in a release.

The science center, planned for a space on North Eighth Street near the PPL Center, will offer a range of programs focused on school children and their family members.

Allentown Mayor Ray O’Connell said the center will be a good draw to the downtown area.

“The new science center will open-up Da Vinci to tens of thousands of new visitors and expand their mission of bringing science to life and lives to science,” he said. “This project has the potential to be transformative, setting the future direction of our city for decade.”

The project is within the city’s Neighborhood Improvement Zone, which will also help with the project’s funding.

The new center was originally planned as a more than $100 million project along the Waterfront in the City of Easton, but those plans fell through. The main Da Vinci Science Center is on the campus of Cedar Crest College in Allentown.