Coming soon to Riverhead: a brand-new rooftop planetarium that will be housed at the 24,000-square-foot building expected to be the new home of the Long Island Science Center.
Staff with the nonprofit Riverhead-based science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics learning museum announced this week their planned expansion at 111 East Main St. The building, once occupied by the former Swezey’s department store, will feature a planetarium that would seat up to 100 people.
The nonprofit has offered a mobile planetarium for several years, said Cailin Kaller, executive director of the science center, but it has not been able to open it at its temporary space on 40 Peconic Ave. due to limited space.
"We thought we could create this permanent space where we’d be able to do our programming that relates to the universe, the stars and constellations," Kaller said. "In addition to the fun planetarium show, it could also be a resource for other programming for us and the community."
Kaller said the planetarium could be a draw to attract people in and outside the Riverhead area to visit the museum’s new home, which will be near the already-planned Town Square, and play a key role in plans to revitalize downtown Riverhead by offering a new destination for people to visit.
"A building of this size is definitely meant to be a regional attraction," said Larry Oxman, president of the center’s board of directors.
Plans to move to the new space have been in the works since 2016, after the nonprofit’s board of directors saw they needed more space for the center to operate, Kaller said. The nonprofit originally had "a much smaller project" planned, which Kaller said was then projected to cost about $4 million.
The incoming Town Square, however, inspired the center to go bigger with its plans.
"The idea that we know that the space next to us is going to be open space is what has allowed us to plan for this rooftop expansion," Kaller said. "If there was a building next to us, it might not make sense for us to do this. But the rooftop planetarium, event space and other things we’re planning has really been made possible by knowing we’ll have open space next to us that will make that an enjoyable space for people to go to."
Kaller said the nonprofit is waiting to release updated figures on the final projected costs for the expansion until after Riverhead officials have more information on the timing for the Town Square development. Kaller said they ideally would like the center to be finished around the same time as, if not slightly earlier or soon after, the square’s completion.
Dawn Thomas, Riverhead’s community development director, said town officials are working closely with the center to support its grant funding efforts. The science center seeks a combination of state and federal government grants to finance its future home.
"The support for this project has been universal," Thomas said. "Everyone that’s been participating in the process, whether it be residents or other government entities or businesses, has been completely supportive of this and understands that it’s going to be a transformative project for downtown Riverhead."
ROOM TO GROW
The Long Island Science Center’s planned two-floor building will also feature:
- Retail space and would be opened in several phased stages to allow the nonprofit to operate there while Riverhead works on completing the Town Square
- Makerspace and classrooms
- A recording studio
- The Long Island Hall of Technology and Invention
- A rooftop deck — with bio-gardens and exhibits on solar energy and photovoltaics — and observation area overlooking the Town Square and Peconic River