Carnegie Science Center plans to deliver the next generation of its popular science-of-sports exhibition in a new facility with some trusty favorites and new, health-conscious offerings.
“What we’re doing with SportsWorks 2.0 is using something that’s part of this region’s fabric and culture to spark an interest in science and technology—and, in particular, health and medicine.
- John Altdorfer
Ready, Set, Go! SportsWorks 2.0
By John Altdorfer
On August 24, after the last bunch of physically exhausted kids departs, the doors to Carnegie Science Center’s SportsWorks™ will close in its current home.
Seven years and millions of visitors after it opened in 2001, SportsWorks as we know it will be history. In its place, the Port Authority of Allegheny County will transform a portion of the site of the former Miller Printing Company into one of two new light-rail transit stations set to open on the North Shore sometime early in the next decade.
While construction crews drill subway tunnels under the Allegheny River, workers above ground will be erecting SportsWorks 2.0 across the street, in a new building next to the Science Center. Scheduled to debut in summer 2009, the reincarnated exhibit will feature reinvigorated old favorites and gold star new attractions —with a major educational twist.
“The existing SportsWorks has been a highly popular venue that delivered science concepts related to physics in a high-energy atmosphere,” says Jo Haas, Henry Buhl, Jr. director of the Science Center. “The reinvented SportsWorks will have an added dimension that focuses on fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle choices. In many ways, the repositioning of SportsWorks is similar to the closing of the old Dinosaur Hall at the Museum of Natural History and then the opening of the new Dinosaurs in Their Time.”
To put that in Black and Gold terms, a youngster visiting the current exhibit may fantasize about being Hines Ward, Sidney Crosby, or Freddie Sanchez. But after exploring version 2.0, that same girl or boy might also aspire to be a personal trainer, nutritionist, or orthopedic surgeon.
While the light-rail transit project forced the move of SportsWorks’ location, the Science Center’s long-range plan carefully guided the new site’s educational shift.
“SportsWorks is seven years old,” says Ron Baillie, chief program officer at the Science Center. “That’s just about the lifespan of an interactive, physically engaging experience of this kind. When it reaches that point, you replace it, upgrade it, or change it. We’re fortunate to be able to do all three of those options at one time.”
Doing it all will require about a 10-month gap between the closing of the current facility and the opening of its successor. As construction of the new, nearly 30,000-square-foot structure proceeds on an accelerated schedule, many of the more popular SportsWorks attractions—such as the climbing wall and trampoline—will find a temporary home in the Science Center’s atrium.
For now, final plans are still under consideration. But Baillie says stalwarts such as the trampoline, Orbitron, and virtual volleyball will make up one-third of the new gallery. Current exhibits upgraded with new software and improved technology will make up another third, and brand-new, interactive displays with a focus on health and medical science will round out the exhibit and give it a fresh feel.
“Our hands-on and body-on experiences will help us reflect the region’s prowess in medical science,” says Haas. “Hopefully, that will expose young people to the diverse opportunities in those arenas. We’re using sports as the portal to give them deeper insights to health care and medical careers.”
The new SportsWorks is just one part of a broader plan to reshape visitor experiences at the popular North Shore destination. The multi-pronged plan puts an emphasis on areas that the Science Center and the Pittsburgh region claim as innate strengths: astronomy, robots, the environment and rivers, sports and health, and the basic sciences. And once SportWorks crosses North Shore Drive, all Science Center attractions will again be on the same side of the street and part of a unified 13-acre campus.
Haas sums up best what will spell the project’s success. “At the end of the opening day of SportsWorks 2.0,” she says, “I want to hear people saying ‘It’s back and better than ever.’ I want them to have a sense of excitement that a good friend has come home, and that it was worth