By Andy Medici

Years ago a young girl would go to the Carnegie Science Center as often as possible to race against the time of an Olympic track athlete. Years later that same girl would go on to win silver in the 2004 summer Olympics.

Ann Metzger, the acting co-director of the Carnegie Science Center, told the story of Lauren Williams as an example of how early learning could affect the life and development of a child as the Science Center broke ground on a 20,000 square-foot expansion of the facility. The new SportsWorks exhibition will feature exhibits based on fitness, nutrition, health and the physics of movement. The $5 million facility will also contain classrooms and space for the Science Center’s in Your Neighborhood youth program.

The Nov. 13 ceremony began with a demonstration of physics in action, as a pair of staffers balanced a beach ball in mid air with the use of a leaf blower and unrolled toilet paper using the same tool. It was a reenactment of something that children might see in the Science Center, and the audience applauded afterwards.

The new facility will be right next to the original building, currently the site of a visitors’ parking lot. Metzger said that this was an expected move and part of the Center’s long-term strategic plan. The new facility should open Labor Day weekend 2009.

“We knew that we wanted to bring our visitor experiences to this side of campus,” Metzger said. “We knew we would have to vacate for the new Allegheny Transit system,” she added, referring to the light rail system being constructed across the Allegheny River.

Lee Foster, the chair of the board of trustees for the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh, said that this project created a lot of excitement and energy.

“Carnegie is thrilled to be able to provide a newer SportsWorks to the Pittsburgh region,” Foster said.

Raymond Betler, the chair of the Carnegie Science Center Board, highlighted the dual nature of the SportsWorks and the Science Center as a whole.

“At first blush the SportsWorks is just fun, but it’s fun with an educational twist,” Betler said. “We hope to continue to inspire young minds.”

The new Center will have three themed areas; the physics of sports, lifeworks and sports challenge. The physics of sports will feature the human gyroscope currently found in the Science Center, the world’s largest bubble hockey table and a bungee-harnessed trampoline also currently found in the Center.

LifeWorks will represent the 10 most common sports injuries reminiscent of the game “Operation” and a “bodycam” that will take visitors through the human body to observe surgical techniques.

Sports Challenge will feature an Olympic spring similar to the one featured by Metzger in her speech as well as a climbing wall and a padded sensor to test a kid’s karate chop.

Visitors will first enter the new facility through an entrance that will lead to the second floor, with classrooms to one side, and the main body of exhibits down a ramp system to the first floor.

This new take on an older facility is just the beginning of a long term plan that will eventually unify the front entrances to these two centers and place an eco garden in front as a lesion about the environment.