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New Jones Beach nature center to be bigger, more exciting, state officials say

The 11,000-square-foot facility will replace the park's existing nature center, which one official said has fallen into disrepair.

A rendering of Jones Beach State Park's new

A rendering of Jones Beach State Park's new $18 million energy and nature center, which is slated to open in the spring of 2020. Photo Credit: nARCHITECTS

The roof leaks. The restrooms are run down, and the exhibits have been around so long that many school kids no longer want to visit the nature center at Jones Beach State Park.

Park officials have talked about renovating the place for years. But on Friday, state officials announced an ambitious project to instead replace the aging facility with an $18 million energy and nature center that they say is bigger, fancier and more exciting for kids and adults.

Clearly excited about the new 11,000-square-foot center, which is expected to open in the spring of 2020, state parks deputy regional director George Gorman talked about some of the new hands-on exhibits Friday.

Kids will have a "touch tank" where they can play with turtles, starfish and other sea life from around Long Island, he said.

They will also be able to construct a working model of a wind generator and plug it into solar panels. Another exhibit: Get on a bicycle and produce enough energy to charge your cellphone. 

"It's designed to be exciting," he said.

As for the existing center, which is about 20 years old, Gorman said, "It became old. . . . It fell into disrepair. The whole place needed to be refreshed and upgraded."

The center was cash-starved, so many exhibits have hung around for years, Gorman added. Seeing that, schools that had visited the place didn't want to make return visits. Officials said attendance has dropped to about 10,000 visitors per year, which they are hoping to increase to about 25,000.

In that sense, the nature center's troubles reflect those of much of the state park system, said Rose Harvey, commissioner of the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. For years, critics have said the state's 180 parks and 35 historic sites were deprived of funding, becoming dilapidated.

"That was the story — no investment over 40 years," she said. "We weren't in the capital budget."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has made a point of reversing that with an infusion of parks funding. Cuomo has said he plans to invest $900 million in public and private funds in state parks by 2020.

Jones Beach's energy and nature center is being funded by the state, PSEG Long Island, the Long Island Power Authority, New York Power Authority and private donors, officials said. 

The hope is that the new center will also entice adults with intriguing exhibits about conserving water and the economical use of energy. People might come away with tips on lowering their electric bills, Gorman said.

The building is an exhibit in its own right, as it will have a net-zero use of energy, meaning it will produce as much energy as it uses, said John Keating, PSEG manager of economic development on Long Island.

"It's not only fun, but you'll be learning something," Keating said.

The center will feature several energy labs and classrooms, and officials are in talks with Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to help with activities, he said.

"Families and schools can explore fun and interactive workshops and classes, while businesses and consumers can get a firsthand look at new technologies and ways to save energy," LIPA CEO Thomas Falcone said.

The existing nature center, located at West End I, will be closed and shuttered. The new center will open at West End II at the site of a defunct concession stand, which will be torn down, Gorman said. It will not block access to the water.

Besides the center, the state will designate 218½ acres of the park's west end as a preservation area.

The designation will help maintain the ecology of the area, limit development to recreational uses such as fishing and hiking, and encourage scientific research, state officials said.


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