Major renovations and upgrades are being planned to the Springfield Science Museum.
Aiming to adapt the space and natural history exhibits to a contemporary audience, a $5 million multi-year project is planned to install interactive displays, improve the planetarium with a live link to the International Space Station, and replace the iconic giant T-rex dinosaur with a robotic model.
"It is going to be really really exciting," said Springfield Museums President Kay Simpson.
She said the project will bring the science museum to a new level and build on the surge in attendance at the museums complex since the opening two years ago of The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum.
The Springfield Science Museum was founded as a natural history museum in 1859, the same year Darwin published “On the Origin of Species.” It houses over 200,000 objects, artifacts, and specimens.
The ball-shaped machine that projects stars inside the dome of the planetarium was built in 1937 and is believed to be the oldest one in use anywhere in the world. Plans are to replace it with a digital projection system and install a new dome.
Work has already started to build a hands-on invention activity center called Smithsonian Star!Lab which is scheduled to open this fall.
"It will be instructed by teachers, so anytime you come into the museum when we are open to the public you will be able to engage in these discovery activities, so we are very excited about that," said Simpson.
To pay for the improvements, Simpson said the museums will be raising money from corporations, private foundations and individuals.
The Massachusetts Cultural Council has awarded $200,000 for the science museum improvements, and local legislators hope to get a $200,000 earmark into the final version of the next state budget.
Democratic State Rep. Jose Tosado of Springfield said he supports state funding to help the museum’s project.
"We have so many positive things going on in the city right now and the museums is a large part of it," said Tosado.
State Rep. Brian Ashe, a Democrat from Longmeadow, said the museums have become a major tourist attraction.
"There is something for everybody," said Ashe. "Not only is it educational, but it is a fun place to be."
This year’s state budget included funds to pay for bilingual exhibits at the Dr. Seuss museum.