Proposed $11M science center in Easton for field trips, visitors and research

The association Feeding the Nature Center in Easton on Wednesday night unveiled its ambitious vision for a new attraction for local school groups, residents, researchers and tourists along Bushkill Creek.

The science and creativity center is proposed for the former Easton Iron and Metal scrap yard which the city bought and is working with Mark Mulligan’s Easton-based VM development group to revitalize it as a redevelopment for use mixed. A planetarium is included in plans for the new center, along with indoor and outdoor spaces for education and activities.

The addition of the new Nurture Nature Center to the site was first mooted when Mulligan’s company publicly presented plans in September for 150 homes and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. Nurture Nature last spring detailed plans for the center, but it wasn’t until Easton City Council’s Wednesday evening meeting that funding details were publicly discussed.

Nurture Nature opened 10 years ago at 518 Northampton St. in Easton, but has outgrown the space for the kind of environmental education it wants to do, chief executive Rachel Hogan Carr told the council.

“The building just wasn’t designed for its purpose and so we kind of overdid ourselves,” she said of the 1914 structure that once housed the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

Rachel Hogan Carr, Executive Director of the Nurture Nature Center, outlines plans for a new environmental education center at the former Easton Iron and Metal site along Bushkill Drive, during the Wednesday, January 12, 2022 meeting of the Easton City Council.easton-pa.com

The center has already won buy-in for its new proposal from area school superintendents excited about the prospect of a state-of-the-art local day trip destination, and on Wednesday evening the city council agreed to request 4 millions of dollars. federal grant for the project.

Easton would commit $2 million to the estimated $11 million project, through grants or tax increment funding similar to the arrangement Bethlehem used to fund improvements to the old Bethlehem factory. Steel Corp. which now houses SteelStacks and WLVT-PBS39. The non-profit Nurture Nature Foundation would inject an additional $4 million to match the grant sought from the US Economic Development Authority.

City officials described the federal grants as a unique opportunity to help fund the new center at the scrapyard site at 1111-13 Bushkill Drive, connecting Bushkill Creek to the Karl Stirner Arts Trail by way of a trestle. needs restoration, said Mayor Sal Panto Jr.

The scrap site itself needs to be cleaned up before it can be redeveloped. To that end, Easton contracted in November with Lehigh Valley-based Helmer Co. to design an environmental cleanup plan at a cost of $40,000. Bethlehem-based HDR Engineering Inc. is also working with Easton to tackle oil and heavy metal contamination at the site resulting from its operation as a scrapyard since the mid-1990s, according to a legal advertising released this week. The cleanup is expected to take about two years, said Easton Public Works Manager David Hopkins.

The Nurture Nature Center began tackling Easton’s recurring flooding issues and has grown into a nationally respected organization that now assists the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA with research and risk modeling , according to Wednesday evening’s discussion before the city council.

“So what we’re proposing and what we’re dreaming of now is the Nurture Nature Center, but bigger and better,” Hogan Carr said. “There will be more community science, more art, more dialogue, more national research and we have great community partners…college and we have also partnered with colleges and universities across the country. We hope to be even more integrated into this work in a new larger facility, and we want to have a facility that is built to do that and will be able to accommodate more school groups.

The center recently held an open house for school principals from the Lehigh Valley and Warren, Hunterdon, and Morris counties in New Jersey, which resulted in many letters of support for federal funding. Two of those superintendents spoke highly of the proposal Wednesday before the board – Easton Area Schools Superintendent David Piperato and North Warren Regional Superintendent Sarah Bilotti.

Proposed $11M science center in Easton for field trips, visitors and research

North Warren Regional School District Superintendent Sarah Bilotti speaks to Easton City Council Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022, about the benefits of a proposed new facility for the Nurture Nature Center, alongside the Superintendent of Schools Easton Area David Piperato, left to right, and City Administrator Luis Campos.easton-pa.com

“What I would say take away from that, in addition to the excitement I saw in the room after Ms Carr’s presentation, is that people just didn’t know something so spectacular was happening. was here,” Bilotti said, noting the call for the pitch. travel and professional development.

“One of the things that I think we often struggle with is that if we want to go to a science center, we have to go to Newark or Philadelphia,” she continued. “And even before COVID, school districts, especially elementary schools, were hesitant to send students that far.”

Easton had worked with the Allentown-based Da Vinci Science Center on building a new facility on a former hotel site the city had purchased at 185 S. Third St., before Da Vinci decided to move the project to Allentown . This property is now set to be redeveloped by Bethlehem-based Peron Development as a mixed-use residential, commercial and entertainment project known as The Confluence.

Easton chose Peron for this project, VM Development for Easton Iron and Metal and City Center Investment Corp. of Allentown-based JB Reilly for the redevelopment of the Pine Street parking lot through Citizens’ Committees to review proposals and recommend projects, which then received City Council support. .

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Kurt Bresswein can be reached at [email protected].

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