In March 2020, Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum and Planetarium was forced to close when the Covid-19 pandemic took root. But unlike other cultural institutions, the facility stayed closed when the state gave the go-ahead for reopening in June 2020.
Instead of greeting the public again, the facility began talks with Sacred Heart University — located down the road from the museum on the Fairfield side of Park Avenue — on the possibility of a new union. The school and the museum announced in November that they signed an agreement with Sacred Heart taking over the Discovery’s management and coordinating a $1.8 million state-funded upgrade.
Fast-forward to Sept. 17 when a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at the newly christened Sacred Heart University Discovery Science Center & Planetarium, ahead of the Sept. 25 reopening to the general public.
“Last year, the Covid pandemic hit us all very hard,” Discovery Chairman Robert A. Panza said. “And although Discovery continued many virtual learning programs, we also recognized the need to modernize, reenergize and reinvent our institution for the years ahead.”
Discovery Executive Director Erika Eng told the ribbon-cutting ceremony audience that the reopening of the facility was “by far, the most exciting day of my career” and she promised to bring the Discovery back into the forefront of the local educational environment.
“I grew up in Yonkers, New York, and I attended a museum magnet school myself,” she said, a reference to that city’s Hudson River Museum. “And without that experience and additional enrichment, I would not be where I am today.
“I see the value and purpose and importance of informal learning institutions and their partnerships in the community and in partnership with a local university,” she said. “And now we know that a large portion of the job market is STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) jobs, so we have this special opportunity to get children from a pre-K age and shepherd them through a STEM continuum, all the way through higher education and beyond.”
Eng detailed that with Sacred Heart’s input, the museum was able to “install new infrastructure from top to bottom, which has allowed us to increase the technology that we’re using in all of our exhibits to bring us to the forefront in some cases of technological experience, including our planetarium, which is the most advanced in the state at the moment.”
Among the upgrades, she continued, was the installation of a new fiber optic internet, new telephones and a new technological infrastructure security. She also praised the university for taking “things like landscaping and janitorial out of my budget, which allows me to appropriate it to programming, which is our most important thing.”
Farrington College of Education Dean Michael Alfano praised Sacred Heart’s efforts for using the facility to expand STEM education to the next generation of scientists and engineers.
“From the programming side, everything that you’ll see today has been informed by all of our colleges at the university,” Alfano said. “We have students and faculty who have contributed time and energy and expertise to the exhibits that are here.”
And Sacred Heart University President John J. Petillo promised the museum would be a work in progress that continues to grow and expand over time.
“Hopefully we’ll be having more exhibits as the months and the years go by,” he said.