The nonprofit behind a proposed $127 million science museum in Easton said it plans to select a construction firm and design team by the summer. Meanwhile, it has already hired a Philadelphia consulting firm to manage and oversee the project.
Last year, the city of Easton bought the Days Inn hotel and two acres of land at 185 S. Third St. in Easton for $5.9 million. The city demolished the hotel.
The Da Vinci Science Center of Allentown plans to use the site for Da Vinci Science City, which will have multiple exhibits focused on health care, manufacturing, technology and nature.
First introduced in 2016, the concept originally included a saltwater aquarium, but the organization withdrew that costlier idea in favor of a nature dome.
The organization has been working over the last year on a master plan, which includes a facilities and exhibits plan, said Lin Erickson, executive director and CEO of Da Vinci Science Center. It also completed market research and hired Becker & Frondorff, a Philadelphia-based cost estimating and project management firm that will manage the project act on Da Vinci’s behalf, she said.
Now Da Vinci is looking to select an architectural firm that will complete the design.
“This is a big contract,” Erickson said. “We are in the process of interviewing local and national architectural teams. We also believe there is a lot of strong talent in the Lehigh Valley.”
The organization may announce the architectural teams as early as March, she added.
Her goal is to hire a national firm as the lead architect and a local one for the secondary team.
Da Vinci already hired EHDD Architects of San Francisco to complete the conceptual design.
By the summer, the Science City project could move into more extensive, detailed architectural design work. By that time, Erickson said she would like to have a construction team in place.
Once construction moves ahead, she anticipates about 600 to 700 workers on site each year, with a groundbreaking potentially in fall 2020 and completion at the end of 2022.
The original cost estimate Da Vinci proposed for the project was actually higher than the current estimate of $127 million. That was when the project included the saltwater aquarium, she added.
So far, the organization has raised $52 million and has about $45 million in the queue, she said.
“Those commitments will be contingent on signing the agreement with Easton,” Erickson said.
Financial supporters of the project want to know it’s going forward. The signing of the development agreement would be an important milestone, she added.
The agreement is a contract between the city and Da Vinci that details how it will develop the property.
The three planned exhibits include a health care experience with a 100-foot replica of the human body; a science and technology area with a factory floor; and a nature dome with an environment of three ecosystems.
Erickson said she is looking not only for exhibit funders but also for entities to partner with the organization in developing them.
“We want to have partners that can commit to us for many years to continuously update it,” Erickson said.
In addition, Erickson said Da Vinci’s Allentown site would remain open and transition over time to a focus on younger children.