The main entrance won’t change.
As it has for decades, the front door to the 169-year-old Kinkead House will still serve as the primary entrance to the Living Arts and Science Center. But what visitors find when they walk through will be drastically different from the facility that always seemed to be bursting at the seams with activity.
That old house is getting a complete makeover, and a completely new, modern wing of the center has already opened and started blowing visitors’ minds.
“We had two events in here the other night with about 400 people between them, and the building gracefully absorbed that number, and it didn’t feel crowded at all,” executive director Heather Lyons said recently. . “It was very exciting. In the other building, it would have been claustrophobic.
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And that was the impetus behind the renovation and construction project of more than $5 million: giving the center’s already popular programs more room to breathe and providing a center better equipped to serve a wide variety of needs.
Among the highlights of the project are a planetarium — Lexington’s only one — where visitors can learn about the depths of space and see other programs; a large gallery that includes a giant projection screen where videos and images can be shown to visitors inside and outside the gallery; a rooftop garden and classrooms and spaces including a clay studio and an experimental kitchen which will use items grown in gardens right outside the center’s doors.
As she spoke early last week, Lyons and her staff were all holed up in the new section of the building while construction workers were completing work on renovations to the Kinkead house, which will still sport offices, galleries and classrooms.
Reminders of the old LASC are scattered around the new facility, like some of the center’s live animals, including Speedy the corn snake, now perched at the top of the stairs in the new wing, outside the PNC Foundation Classroom.
“We’re seeing a glimmer of what it will be when the whole building is ready,” Lyons said of the project which is being completed debt-free, thanks to a $5.5 million capital campaign.
It should be more than a glimmer this week as the center holds two big celebrations of its new era: A grand re-opening with a ribbon-cutting and center tours Monday and then the annual H’Artful of Fun fund-raising gala, which will double as a grand opening celebration for the renewed center.
“We’ll be doing it at the center for the first time, because now we can,” marketing director Kristin Voskuhl said of the 26th edition of the event. “We want people to come in and see what we have now.”
Some visitors are already seeing the new space, like a class of elementary school students. As the class of more than 20 settles in for a planetarium show, presenter Mike Mankel tells the children they are welcome to lie on the carpeted floor for the show, gazing up at the faux sky, and all but one student takes him up on the offer.
“We used to have an inflatable planetarium we would put up downstairs in the studio,” Lyons says. “This gives us so many more possibilities of what we can do.”
That was a problem in the center’s former setup: Staff was having to take time setting things up and taking them down, because of a lack of space. Voskhul notes if a digital photography class was being set up, computers would have to be set up in a room for students, and taken down when the class was done.
Galleries doubled as classrooms, and field trips had to be highly choreographed so students weren’t bumping into each other station to station.
Now, there is a computer lab for those digital classes to take place, and wide hallways for classes to move around. Center directors and educators can focus on teaching. There is a whole workroom outside of the center’s prominent GLO Gallery, named for the late Gloria Singletary, where students can try to replicate what they just saw in the gallery.
Voskhul points out that in planning the upgrade, there were people advocating the center move out of its downtown location at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Fourth Street and move to the suburbs where it could have more space and more parking.
“This neighborhood is part of who we are,” she said. “The reason we can do any of this is the Kinkead family donated this house to us. So we didn’t want to move. We wanted to make this a beautiful center for the community.”
The rooftop garden will overlook a courtyard that will be created by garden designer John Carloftis, and the GLO Gallery screen facing MLK will show a wide variety of images to passers-by. All of the grounds will be open to the public.
Lyons says with the end in sight, the staff is anxious to dispense with the construction zones and get back to full-fledged programming, while noting that a point of pride is that the center never actually shut down for construction.
“We put the money into the space and the flexibility of the space,” Lyons said, “and we really can’t wait for everyone to see it.”
If You Go
Living Arts and Science Center
What: Ribbon-cutting, tours, refreshments and more
When: 11 a.m. April 18
Where: Living Arts and Science Center, 362 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.
H’Artful of Fun
What: Celebration with music, food, live auction and more
When: 7-11 p.m. April 23
Where: Living Arts and Science Center
Tickets: $100 in advance, $120 after April 18 and at the door