UPPER WEST SIDE — The American Museum of Natural History's planned $325 million expansion into a surrounding park is "reckless and insensitive," says a local group pushing to get the project reduced or scrapped altogether.
The museum plans to open its new 218,000-square-foot Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation in 2019 or 2020 as a new exhibition hall for hands-on learning at West 79th Street and Columbus Avenue, according to an online explanation of the project.
But Defenders of Teddy Roosevelt Park Inc. think the expansion encroaches too much on the public Theodore Roosevelt Park, which surrounds the museum and has in the past been mistaken for museum property. The group wants the museum to use existing space or move other parts of its operation elsewhere to make room for the new center, they said.
Since forming on July 1, a few months after the project was first publicly announced, the Defenders have connected with more than 2,000 supporters, said group president Sig Gissler in an email.
Their Change.org petition calling on the museum to find alternative non-park space had garnered 1,737 signatures as of late Monday afternoon.
"Please don't diminish such a beautiful outdoor public space. They are already at a premium in our city," Tracy Reid wrote on the petition.
A town hall meeting is set to take place Tuesday, Oct. 6, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Fourth Universalist Society near the museum at 160 Central Park West.
The museum has attended more than 60 meetings with stakeholders, including community groups, elected officials and the local community board, said Dan Slippen, vice president of Government Affairs at AMNH.
“We take the community’s feedback and concerns very seriously, which is why I plan to attend the Town Hall meeting on Oct. 6 and listen very carefully," said Slippen in a statement.
"We understand there have been and will continue to be questions about the Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. When the conceptual design is completed we look forward to sharing it with the community and continuing the discussion," he added.