Science Center expands with new playground, center for children

The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is constantly evolving.

Its latest projects – a shaded playground and a renovated multipurpose building — will give visitors even more opportunities to learn about the intricacies of science.

The Discovery Center Early Childhood Playground – which opened in April – is designed for kids 6 years old and younger. It includes all the iconic favorites — age-appropriate equipment like monkey bars, slides and climbing platforms that are also accessible for young children with disabilities – while giving kids a chance to search for science clues intertwined throughout the playground.

“It offers a unique opportunity for our youngest visitors to experience a hands-on, extremely interactive delivery of informal science education merged with the arts,” notes Kate Arrizza, the center’s chief operating officer. “Our new playground is unique because it provides a healthy mix of fun, exercise and developmental skills with science merged all around.”

The playground – supported by Lost Tree Foundation and PNC Bank – is open year-round and is included in the center’s general admission price.

“We estimate at least 150,000 children will be served in our new Discovery Center and playground each year, 80 percent which are from Title I (low-income) schools. More than 50 percent of our visitors under the age of 5 years reside in ZIP codes designated as underserved, according to Palm Beach County Census Tract data,” explains Arrizza. “More than 70 percent of all youth participants in our grant-funded school field trip and outreach programs (which total 75,000 students per year) attend Title I schools. The playground provides the opportunity for economically disadvantaged and at-risk young children living in underserved neighborhoods to have access to a fun and unique space created and designed just for them.”

The center largely focuses on programs for children from birth to age 6.

“The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium shares PNC’s philosophy that by focusing on the years from birth to age 6, we have a greater impact on their future by fostering better achievement in school — more graduates of high school and college, higher salaries, less crime and drug abuse and less chance of being on welfare,” says Arrizza. Thanks in large part to our partnership with PNC, we are in a unique position to present programs in these early years.”

PNC officials were happy to back the project.

“Our support of the Discovery Center’s new playground and multipurpose center is a strategic investment in the future of South Florida,” Cressman Bronson, PNC regional president for Florida east notes in a press release announcing the new projects. “By helping ‘children of all ages’ to learn about science in a fun and interactive way, we support a solid foundation for the well-being of local children, their families and ultimately, our economy.”

The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium’s 5,000-square-foot multipurpose center was renovated and now serves as the “hub of the hub” for informal science education. Renamed the Stiles-Nicholson STEM Education Center, its classroom spaces, warming kitchen, high-tech computer lab — along with panoramic views of Dreher Park meadows — serve as headquarters for STEM science education programs, meetings and other functions, including rentals to the community for educational programs, parties, weddings and other events.

The Science Center has more plans in the works — including “A Journey Through the Human Brain,” a new 2,500-square-foot exhibit in partnership with FAU’s new Brain Institute.

The project, which is in the design and fundraising phase, will have four state-of-the-art galleries designed for all ages. Officials hope to break ground early next year for the exhibit.

“The interactive exhibition will take a bottom-up approach to telling the story of the human brain, from the molecular and cellular level to the integrated circuitry that creates our hopes, fears and memories,” says Arrizza. “Visitors will experience the latest research and technology in human brain anatomy and modern neuroscience.”

The center is also in the midst of expanding its backyard. Phase one — which was finished in November 2016 — provides a Florida conservation-themed, 18-hole miniature golf course designed by Gary Nicklaus and Jim Fazio.

Phase two is expected to break ground this summer and will feature dozens of new outdoor exhibits including a music station, splash pad, giant human sundial, amphitheater and dinosaur trail for all ages.

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