Discovery World plans expansion

$18 million project to expand exhibit and event space [PHOTO GALLERY]

A rendering of the expansion at Discovery World.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:13 pm

Beginning in August, Milwaukee science and technology museum Discovery World will begin an $18 million expansion project to add 21,000 square feet to its existing space.

The first phase will add a 10,000-square-foot pavilion to take the place of the seasonal tent pitched each spring and summer on the north lawn of the lakefront museum. The pavilion, which is expected to be completed by summer 2018, will be used year-round for special events, such as weddings and conferences; orientation and lunchroom space for school groups; educational space for field trips and summer camps; and installation of large traveling technology or freshwater exhibits of 7,500 to 10,000 square feet.

“The whole idea behind the expanded space is to make it versatile so that it serves a whole bunch of different functions,” said Joel Brennan, chief executive officer and president of Discovery World. “We’ll have three times the space to serve student lunch groups and to do student orientations.”

Brennan said traveling exhibits that Discovery World would consider hosting every few years if it had the space are “The Science Behind Pixar” from the Museum of Science, Boston; Stage Nine Exhibitions’ “Popnology: From Sci-Fi to Wi-Fi“; or “The Science of Ripley’s Believe It or Not!

“That’s an area that in the course of our history to date, we’ve never had the ability to even consider,” Brennan said. “So it opens up that avenue for us.”

Discovery World also will begin phase two this year, which involves remodeling major exhibit space and doubling the available exhibit and program space in the Technology Wing to 22,000 square feet. A theater will be converted into a new grand entrance and exhibit gallery. The lower mezzanine level will be opened to the public to house the Technology Wing expansion, and two new permanent exhibits will be added there. One of those is a 5,000-square-foot exhibit on public health, medical research and health care careers and the other is a yet-to-be-determined 1,000-square-foot exhibit. Offices that were previously located on the lower mezzanine will be moved to an upper floor. The work is expected to begin in the fall and be finished by the end of 2018.

The Reiman Family Foundation gave the undisclosed lead donation to fund the project, and Discovery World is now conducting a fundraising campaign to raise the rest from individuals and foundations.

“It’s a generous lead gift that allows us to be able to start to work immediately as soon as we get the necessary approvals and do all of the dotting of Is and crossing of Ts,” Brennan said.

Discovery World leaders expect the projects to add another $1 million per year in earned revenue. The organization’s annual revenue is about $8 million. The new exhibits also will educate a larger audience on topics such as health, medicine and energy and offer more intensive, repeat science and math programming to kids who do not learn enough about these subjects in the classroom, creating a talent pipeline for employers in the region, the organization said.

“We’re at the front end of that pipeline,” Brennan said. “We’re part of the network and fabric that introduces young people to STEM. What we’re trying to do with this is to get more tools, be more sustainable, but in the end have more impact.”

The project is expected to attract additional visitors and events each year, and set the museum up for the next couple of decades, Brennan said. Discovery World currently receives between 300,000 and 350,000 visitors annually. It hosts 50 to 60 events in its tent during the four months it is available each year.

While there are several groups currently working to raise money for expansion and renovation projects in Milwaukee, Brennan said he’s not worried about raising the funds because the Discovery World project has a compelling vision and reason.

“It’s never easy to raise money, but on the other side of that, I think there’s an awful lot of people who see that Milwaukee is undergoing a renaissance,” Brennan said. “There’s a momentum that goes along with that.”

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Molly Dill
Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.