October 15, 2001

Sciencenter Gets Help From Nye '77

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More than 700 volunteers from the Ithaca community — including Bill Nye ’77 (the “Science Guy”) — joined together yesterday on renovations to the Sciencenter, which is tripling its exhibition and program space.

Students from Cornell and Ithaca College, professional carpenters, trained engineers — such as Nye, this year’s Frank H.T. Rhodes visiting professor — and other volunteers gathered at the center to continue work on the expansion project, which will include traveling exhibitions, a workshop for building exhibits, a community room and an amphitheater slated for completion in May of 2002.

This new building will supplement the current exhibition space located on Route 13 and Third Street, across the railroad tracks from the Farmer’s Market.

“The Science Center is a place where everyone can share the pleasure of science,” Nye said as he took a break from aligning support beams to talk to visitors.

He added that early visionaries of the center –such as Carl Sagan and Charlie Trautman, director of the Science Center — always used “barn-raising” as an analogy for the coming together of community to build this project.

While many of the returning volunteers pointed to their handiwork in the existing structure, volunteers from this year noted that they feel a sense of accomplishment in contributing to the construction of the building.

“It was hardcore! I was surprised that the worksite wasn’t segregated [by organizations],” said Tara Watkins ’03. “It provided me with a really great opportunity to meet people and get involved with different volunteer groups.”

More than 70 students from Cornell and Ithaca College organizations including the Tau Beta Pi National Engineering Honors Society, Habitat for Humanity, Into the Streets and various Greek groups worked side-by-side with the professional contractors and community residents.

“We’ve had an amazing turn-out of volunteers working hard to make this [expansion project] go without a hitch,” said Melissa Marchese Gattine, public relations manager of the Sciencenter. “People have been very generous, donating food from local restaurants, baby-sitting hours and tools.”

In 1993, 2,200 volunteers gathered to construct the first phase of the center in just under 10 months.

“The first build started as a grass roots supported project,” said Maureen Bell, assistant to the director of the museum. “The design came from the community. We poured the foundation [for the second phase] in December and in the past two months it’s really come together. We’ve only had three minor injuries and probably around 750 volunteers.”

Those who have more experience as construction workers perform the more technical tasks such as welding, cutting exact angles and fastening major structural supports as well as transport wood and supplies to carpenters, hired by Community Build to oversee the project.

“Less skilled people look out for the safety of others, making sure that you don’t get a cinder-block accidentally chucked at your head,” Watkins said.

Grants from the National Science Center and the Ithaca community funded the expansion project, which began last December with the pouring of slab. Working in collaboration with other science centers such as the Rochester Museum and the Montshire Center of Norwich, Vt., the Sciencenter will have rotating, “round-robin” exhibits that will explore topics such as sports science and the artistry of motion by 2003.

“Using scientific discovery in a reasonable sense, rather than a deductive sense of chopping things into little bits, is one of the things that no one can take away from you once you learn it,” Nye said. “Even when you go out on a Sunday afternoon to help the community put up a building, your scientific eye is there to help you out.”

Archived article by Dan Webb