William Sparky, age 3, held a shell to his ear and heard the sea. Other children explored a touch tank filled with fish from the Hudson and pulled out drawers to touch the exhibits in the Discovery Station. Still others snuggled with their parents and caregivers for a good read about nature.
Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy’s new glass-walled Environmental Education Center overlooking the East River officially opened on Thursday, and even the adults had trouble keeping their hands off the interactive exhibits.
Nancy Webster, president of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Conservancy, said the opening of the center “is an exciting new chapter of environmental education in the park.” Educational programs started in 2008 with a grant from Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, and served 1,500 students that first year. The numbers have grown exponentially since then, Webster said.
“More than 10,000 kids participated last year from 135 schools and day camps, in 272 organized classes,” she said. Kids come to the park from every zip code and all five boroughs; one third attend Title I schools and half are English-language learners or disabled.
The Center, at 99 Plymouth St. at the site of a former Department of Environmental Conservation water meter testing facility, provides an area where classes can be held 12 months a year, rain or shine, said Brooklyn Bridge Park President Regina Myer. The redesigned building also provides public restrooms and community space.
Myer said she considers the new center a wonderful addition to the northern end of the park and a “turning point in DUMBO.” The building opens the Plymouth Street portion of the park to the neighborhood for the first time, she said.
Councilmember Stephen Levin and Con Edison provided leadership funding for the buildout, she said. The facility was designed by ARO for $4.5 million, and is part of a $6 million renovation of Main Street Park designed by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc.
At Thursday’s ribbon cutting, the Nancy Bowe Discovery Station, a 10-foot scale model of Brooklyn Bridge Park set atop wooden drawers filled with exhibits explaining the insects, birds, design and ecology of the park, was a hit with all ages.
“You work your way around it – it’s a behind-the-scene look at the secrets of the park,” Webster said.
Kara Gilmour, director of education at the Conservancy, said that kids exploring the Discovery Station learn techniques used by scientists as they catalog and study wildlife. In one drawer, kids use a four by four quadrat to learn how scientists estimate the distribution of living organisms in an area.
“Kids use the data sheet to mark what they see. Then they go out to the salt marsh,” she said.
The Discovery Station was designed by Brooklyn artist and marine biologist Nim Lee of Human Nature Projects, and fabricated by Joey Stein from Moey Inc., and took about a year and a half to put together. Funding for the Station was provided by Nancy Bowe, chair of the Conservancy’s board of directors and her husband Anthony.
Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, who has been involved in the park “since the early days,” called the indoor education space “a God-send,” and said the Discovery Station was a wonderful addition.
NYC Deputy Mayor Richard Buery also put in an appearance, bringing greetings from the mayor. Thanking Levin and Con Edison, Buery said the Center is a “great example of what happens when government and business work together.”
Hilary Ayala, director of Con Edison’s Grassroots Management, said, “For me, it’s the delighted squeals of the children.”
The new Center allows all of us to “dip our toes” in the science of the waterfront, she said.
For now, the Center will be open to walk-ins from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursdays and from 1 to 4 p.m. on weekends.