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Editorial: Red light, green light / Children's Museum expansion is worth capital support

Monday, September 16, 2002

For almost two decades, the Pittsburgh Children's Museum has been teaching and entertaining kids from the Tri-State area. With 100,000 visitors a year, it is one of the steadiest drawing cards in the city's cultural scene.

That is why, when it unveiled plans to seek $18.5 million for an expansion and $6.5 million for an endowment fund, families across the region saw it as an investment in a first-class attraction. Proof of that came this year, when the museum reported that it had collected $17 million from local foundations and private contributors in support of its project.

The donations move the Children's Museum well along to its goal, but a critical piece remains: the $7 million to $10 million sought from the state's capital budget. The museum hoped that the state money would have been in hand to support a groundbreaking last June, but Gov. Mark Schweiker did not release capital money while the state was wrestling with its separate General Fund shortfall.

There is no deadline and no order controlling when capital-budget funds are released. What counts is local support, project quality -- and the governor's willingness to sign the check. The museum expansion has the first two; it's waiting for the third.

The expansion will give the museum more classrooms, more offices and a much larger exhibit area. Today space is at such a premium that traveling shows, which are important for keeping museums fresh, squeeze the permanent attractions.

But not all the benefits of the expansion will be inside. The Children's Museum, now housed in the neoclassical former Allegheny Post Office from the 1890s, will be linked to the former Buhl Planetarium, an art moderne structure from 1939. The connection will be a glass addition designed by Koning Eizenberg Architecture of Santa Monica, Calif. The addition will resemble a paper lantern at night.

Pittsburgh has a long and worthy list of proposals in line for state capital funds. They, like the Children's Museum expansion, have received priority from local leaders and spending authorization from the Legislature. But the foundation money laid on the museum's table means that this project, especially, is ready to go. It deserves a green light from Gov. Schweiker.

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