SC Aquarium expansion to cost $5 million

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 5:54 AM EST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2021 at 7:10 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Aquarium is looking to expand its classroom space to the Maritime Center downtown, and they plan to invest $5 million to make it happen.

According to Amie Yam-Babinchak with the South Carolina Aquarium, the plan is to transform the entire first floor of the Maritime Center into a 5,000 sq. ft. Learning Lab with several classrooms. Yam-Babinchak says the additional classroom space would allow them to serve 20,000 students every year.

The Director of Education at the aquarium Brian Thill says because of the limited space they are currently working with, classes are selected on a lottery system. He says every year they give teachers a chance to sign up to have their class selected to come to the aquarium for classes. But right now, Thill says only one out of every three classes is selected.

“We may serve about 6,000 students a year currently, but the demand is really for about 20,000 students,” Thill said. “So we turn away a lot of students. We turn away a lot of teachers, just based on the capacity.”

But he says the planned expansions would change that.

“The beauty of the Maritime Center, in addition to this being one of the backdrops and really one of the learning labs is that capacity will grow, we’ll be able to serve more students.”

Thill says they are specifically aiming to serve Title 1 schools and underserved communities. He says the new program headquarters would host STEM courses for students K-12. Courses would also touch other topics outside of science, including resilience planning and diversity and inclusion topics.

According to documents submitted to the City of Charleston, the aquarium would be able to rent the facility from the city for an annual fee of $1.

The aquarium put the expansion plans before Charleston city leaders last week, and they are now working their way through the approval process.

If the project is approved by city leaders in the coming weeks, Yam-Babinchak says they plan to start renovations on the Maritime Center in early 2023 and start bringing students in for classes in 2024.

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