What’s better than a field trip? The Children’s Museum’s museumlab.

Photo by Ed Massery

This story was first published on NEXTPittsburgh.

By Bill O’Toole

Starting this January, middle school students from Manchester Academic Charter School will be on a permanent field trip.

The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh has entered the final phase of construction on their museumlab wing, a new space dedicated to applying the practical displays and workshops of the museum to the daily needs of intermediate education.

The project has been gestating since early 2016, when the Children’s Museum began raising money to expand their footprint into the beautiful but vacant Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh branch located near Buhl Community Park and Allegheny Commons.

The 46,000-square-foot building operated continuously from 1890 to 2006, but was forced to close after being struck by lightning.

According to Jane Werner, the museum’s executive director, she and her colleagues were pondering new expansion ideas when public radio host Larry Berger — who has been producing “The Saturday Light Brigade” from SLB Radio Productions’ studios located inside the Children’s Museum since 2001 — suggested they get in touch with the Manchester Academic Charter School (MACS).

The school, located northwest of Allegheny Commons Park, was looking for a new building for their 6th, 7th and 8th graders.

“We met and kismet!” says Werner.

Beyond just giving the students a gorgeous place to learn, the museumlab will offer an innovative approach to education built around using practical exhibits designed by the Children’s Museum. Exhibits will be designed to teach skills in both STEM and the creative arts.

“It creates a great synergy between the two programs,” says Christine Cieslak, project director for the renovation. “They’re able to use our exhibits to inform their learning models, and we will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of our various exhibits based on their educational progress.”

Werner described the project as an ever-evolving curriculum that will pull from a wide range of experts. “It will always be changing,” she says, “with different artists, craftsmen and even technologists, introducing new ideas and processes.”

Though the students from MACS will use the space during the week, the museumlab will also serve as a community resource. The first floor of the museumlab will be open to the public seven days a week. The MACS students will take their core classes on the second floor.

“It is both a public space, where older kids and families with older children can have more in-depth experiences like the ones they participate in at the Children’s Museum, and a school,” says Werner.

The museum will be showing off the construction project with a “Raise the Beam” event on Sept. 21. All told, the project is expected to cost about $18.5 million. Though Cieslak is confident that her team will finish on schedule for the January opening, she says they will still be handling finishing touches well into the spring for the Grand Opening for the entire facility in April.

Since construction began this past January, the crews have uncovered five oil paintings hidden behind the walls, which are currently in storage.