Gilder Center breaks ground
AMNH commences construction on $383 million expansion project
“We made it.”
Ellen Futter, president, American Museum of Natural History
By Michael Garofalo
Four-and-a-half years after the American Museum of Natural History first announced plans for a major expansion project — and following an extensive city review process and a legal battle with a local group that sought to block the new facility — work has officially commenced on the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation.
“We made it,” Ellen Futter, the museum’s president, said to staff, donors, politicians and other dignitaries at a June 12 groundbreaking ceremony for the $383 million project.
The 230,000-square-foot Gilder Center will feature new exhibition and classroom spaces, a redesigned library, and will improve the flow of visitors throughout the museum complex. The facility is being built on the west side of the museum on a quarter-acre of what was formerly Theodore Roosevelt Park and will include a new entrance to the museum facing Columbus Avenue.
“The new Gilder Center will provide important new educational spaces and a new, more publicly accessible home for much of our collections and for our library, while it also is dramatically improving circulation and facilitating a more satisfying visit to the museum both physically and intellectually,” Futter said.
In his comments at the event, Mayor Bill de Blasio briefly referenced local opposition to the Gilder Center, which resulted in an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit that claimed the city failed to adhere to land use and environmental review requirements in approving the project. The city contributed $78 million in funding to the Gilder Center.
“I like to say that I represent a city of 8.6 million highly opinionated people — so not everybody understood immediately why it was so important to foster STEM education, why it was so important to create this center,” de Blasio said. “But perseverance is a virtue and we’re all here today because we believed together that this was important for our future.”
Both the mayor and Futter stressed the role the Gilder Center will play in advancing the museum’s mission at a time when, in de Blasio’s words, “Science is under attack.”
“In this time of rampant misinformation and confusion, especially about the critical science-based issues of our century — climate change, human health and other environmental threats — this museum’s evidence-based science research and education […] has never been more critical,” Futter said.
But the museum has come under scrutiny in recent years for the political activities of its patrons, including the Gilder Center’s namesake, the investor Richard Gilder. Gilder, who was present at the groundbreaking ceremony but did not make public remarks, is a co-founder of the Club for Growth, an influential conservative political group that has opposed efforts to limit carbon emissions. In 2017, the Club for Growth applauded President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement and accused “alarmist environmentalists” of engaging in “scare tactics intended to harm our economy and inhibit economic growth.”
Museum trustee and donor Rebekah Mercer has also been criticized for her political contributions to conservative groups that question the scientific consensus on climate change. More than 450 scientists have signed an open letter calling on the museum to oust Mercer from its board.
The Gilder Center is expected to open by 2021.
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