Science center looks to build $130M expansion

EASTON, Pa. (AP) — A popular science center in eastern Pennsylvania wants to expand by opening a $130 million second location in Easton that would include the Lehigh Valley’s first aquarium, officials said.

The current Da Vinci Science Center in Allentown isn’t big enough to accommodate growing crowds and popular traveling exhibits, according to executive director and CEO Lin Erickson.

A larger building in Easton could become a regional attraction for students and tourists, she said, similar to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia and Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.

“This is our opportunity to serve the Northeast (Pennsylvania) region and beyond,” Erickson told The (Allentown) Morning Call on Wednesday. “The combination of a science center and aquarium is going to be a great opportunity for our kids.”

Da Vinci had been weighing expansion options in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton. The decision to go with Easton — about 20 miles from the existing facility — will be discussed further during a news conference with city officials on Tuesday.

Easton Mayor Sal Panto Jr. told the Express-Times that he hopes the project can break ground in 2018 and open in 2020. Fundraising and site acquisition are still in the works.

Easton, which sits about 50 miles north of Philadelphia, serves as the home of crayon manufacturer Crayola. Its popular Crayola Experience is the city’s main draw.

“We believe we need a second tourist attraction to bring Easton to the next level,” Panto said.

Erickson stressed that Da Vinci’s facility in Allentown will remain open.