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Philadelphia to Build Floating Classroom for Water Science

A $3 million grant will help the Philadelphia Water Department construct a 5,400-square-foot "floating water workshop" on the Schuylkill River to teach STEAM-based lessons in water ecology to children and adults.

Philadelphia with Schuylkill River
(TNS) — The Philadelphia Water Department says it recently received a $3 million grant to help build a 5,400-square-foot "Floating Water Workshop" on the Schuylkill just south of Fairmount Water Works.

Officials said the grant, awarded in December, would help fund the workshop designed by Victoria Prizzia of Habithéque Inc. that would serve as a "learning laboratory of hands-on STEAM-based (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) engagement for people of all ages using current environmental education strategies, technology and creativity." The floating workshop would connect to the east bank and Schuylkill River Trail via two gangways.

The demand for such programs is evidenced by those already in place that are at capacity at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, officials said.

Though the space would house reserved programs for students and adults, it would be open to the public for walk-on visits. Special performances and events are planned.

The project is separate from a circular "FloatLab" to be built also on the Schuylkill at Bartram's Garden that's expected to be open by 2023.

"The Floating Water Workshop will be an innovative, meaningful addition to Pennsylvania's civic, recreational, educational, and environmental communities," Fairmount Water Works executive director Karen Young said in a news release. "Our region is incredibly fortunate to have abundant clean water and rich ecosystems thanks to the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, but there are few safe opportunities for people to enjoy being on our rivers."

Young said the workshop would "redefine the surface of Philadelphia's rivers as a space for safe public access" while educating the public about the environment and ecology of the river. She said the grant "meets our goals for more than 50 percent of phase one" and has given the project momentum.

The grant comes from state-administered Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and will go toward architecture, engineering, and construction. However, other government funding is still needed for completion, and money is also being raised from private, foundation, and corporate donors.

"The Floating Water Workshop is intended to be the centerpiece of our strategy to ensure children throughout the Greater Philadelphia community have easy, fun, and compelling access to water science education," said William Marrazzo, chair of board for the Fund for the Water Works. "Thanks to the elected officials who helped secure this grant, we have made considerable progress towards funding the construction of this project and unlocked additional funding from the William Penn Foundation."

The workshop would be in the tidal part of the Schuylkill, immediately downstream of the Martin Luther King Drive Bridge and almost parallel with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, according to plans on file with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The floating classroom would be anchored in the water, with almost 1,000 square feet of floating docks tied to it. Two ramps would connect the structure to a 1,000-square-foot platform next to the river. It is also designed for boat access.

If it receives all required construction and environmental permits, the classroom would add to another public-access improvement in that area in recent years: a $4.2 million boardwalk and trail on the river that opened in 2018. The 380-foot boardwalk juts over an island, offering an elevated view of the nearby Fairmount Water Works, the Art Museum, and Boathouse Row.

The classroom would be open six months out of the year, from June through November, as an extension of the Fairmount Water Works. From December to May, the structure would be moved to an enclosed basin at Penn's Landing.

The plans drew some backlash from anglers, who say it could affect shad because of that location. Officials say they have made adjustments to ensure the project does not interfere with fish migration.

Officials hope to start construction in 2023 but have not announced a timeline for completion.

©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.