Long Island Science Center plans rooftop planetarium that could seat up to 100 people

A new rooftop planetarium and event space will be the “crowning component” of the Long Island Science Center’s plans to expand its programming into the former Swezey’s building on East Main Street in Riverhead, the organization announced this week.

“The planetarium would be a full planetarium that would be built on the roof of the Science Center and have a 42-foot dome inside that would be projected upon,” said Cailin Kaller, the executive director of LISC, in an interview. “We’d be able to seat up to 100 people at a time. The seats lay back and you look up at the big dome you’re sitting under.”

The Science Center bought the property in April 2020 for $1.45 million, according to town records. It received an $775,500 Regional Economic Development Council grant in December 2019 in support of its move into the Swezey’s building, and is seeking additional grants this year. 

Riverhead Town last Tuesday finalized its acquisition of three properties on East Main Street. It plans to demolish in two of the three buildings to open up a vista from East Main Street to the Peconic River as part of the Town Square. 

The town’s news came as good news to the Science Center as well. 

“The Board of Directors of the Long Island Science Center is thrilled and excited to learn the Town of Riverhead is closing on the property directly to the east of the 24,000-square-foot building the Science Center purchased last year on East Main Street,” said Laurence Oxman, president of LISC’s board of directors.

Science Center officials say that direct access to LISC from the Town Square will be possible under the town’s new plans.

“Instead of entering from the narrow sidewalks on Main Street or the back parking lot, a new and exciting entrance will be centrally located off the Town Square” once it’s completed, officials said.

Mr. Oxman said in an interview that the planetarium has been in discussion for some time. “We are just thinking it would be a wonderful design element and something that is really not available to the region, especially once you get out east,” he said. 

Locally, the Eastern Campus of Suffolk Community College in Northampton has a planetarium, as does Southampton High School. There is also an observatory at The Custer Institute in Southold. 

Ms. Kaller said the Science Center already has a portable planetarium that it has been taking to schools for about 15 years. 

“It’s very popular, but it needs to be updated,” Mr. Oxman said. “But the programs are really amazing.”

The new Science Center will house interactive exhibit space that showcases Long Island technology and invention, as well as adult and youth makerspace,classrooms and a recording studio. A unique rooftop deck and observation area overlooking the Town Square and Peconic River are also being planned. Gardens and exhibits on solar energy and photovoltaics will be highlights of the large deck. 

The Science Center also plans to have some retail storefronts on the ground level. Access to those stores previously would have been from East Main Street or the riverfront parking lot. Now, they will be also be accessible from the Town Square, Mr. Oxman said. 

The retail outlets will occupy only a small portion of the Science Center’s overall space, he said. 

“It helps us long-term with some income to make sure we are able to stay stable and make repairs to the building and keep everything in line,” Ms. Kaller added. 

The nonprofit Science Center sold its original building at 11 West Main St. in 2016 to Peconic Crossings and operated from Rocky Point for three years before returning to Riverhead and leasing space on the ground floor of the Summerwind Square building. That space is considered a “demonstration” space. 

The Science Center has been closed due to COVID-19 concerns and the demonstration space will no longer be used once the renovations to the Swezey’s building are complete, Mr. Oxman said. 

Those renovations will bring the total space in the building to 30,000 square feet.