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JERSEY CITY-Officials of the Liberty Science Center have broken ground for a $104-million expansion of the science museum, which originally opened a dozen years ago. The complex will shut down completely by Labor Day and reopen by the summer of 2007 with more exhibit space and a general overhaul of its existing space.

The existing 200,000-sf complex will get an additional 81,000 sf of exhibit and demonstration space. Of the existing space, a total of 145,000 sf will get a major renovation, according to Dr. Emlyn H. Koster, president and CEO of the nonprofit center.

The plan is to replace nearly every exhibition with new ones focusing on the areas of human health, invention and the environment, according to Koster. New exhibits will focus on the nearby Hudson River estuary, infections, communications and animals. The project will also add a Center for Science Learning and Teaching.

“The expansion and enhancement of the existing facility will result in a greater experience for guests,” says project director John Dolan of Skanska USA Building Inc. The Parsippany-based company is the project’s general contractor. “The multiple improvements will raise visitors’ experience, provide enhanced guest services and improve the facility’s operations.”

The plan calls for the center’s executive and administrative operations to be centralized in the new addition, along with retail shops, a great hall and a skyscraper exhibition. Exhibition space in the existing building will be increasing by the conversion of large floor openings into exhibit space, according to Dolan. Also part of the plan are improvements to the center’s parking area relating to safety and security, especially aimed at handling the many large school and activity groups that visit the center.

The Liberty Science Center is situated within the 1,200-acre Liberty State Park, named for the nearby Statue of Liberty. During the center’s two-year closure, its existing exhibits will be farmed out to multiple locations, according to Koster.

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