Harrisburg University is spreading out once again, this time expanding into space in Whitaker Center for a new student center.
Beginning Feb. 1, HU will lease about 7,000 square feet of space on the top floor, arcade level of the Harsco Science Center, now occupied by KidsPlace, a longstanding activity and exhibit area for children.
“Harrisburg University for Science and Technology is growing rapidly, having already established itself both locally and internationally as a first class STEM University,” said HU President Eric Darr, in a statement. “It is only fitting that we would partner with Whitaker Center to provide our students with first class space in an outstanding STEM setting for them to gather and further their learning.”
HU plans to open its student center following a full renovation of the space, which will be funded by the university. It has essentially run out of room at its main academic building on Market Street.
HU’s new student center will take up about 5 percent of Whitaker Center, which totals about 130,000 square feet. HU also leases space in the basement of Whitaker Center for its e-sports program and sometimes uses Whitaker theaters for e-sports tournaments.
Whitaker Center debuted as an arts and science venue in downtown Harrisburg in 1999.
Current exhibits on the arcade level will be moved to locations throughout the science center, according to Whitaker Center. To facilitate the move, KidsPlace will close entirely from Jan. 28 to 31.
For the past few years, HU has taken up increasing amounts of space downtown. Several old office buildings have been renovated for student housing and, in 2017, HU purchased office space at 225 Market St. from Whitaker Center. Then, last year, it bought land at the corner of S. 3rd and Chestnut streets for a new, 19-story academic tower and hotel.
For its part, Whitaker Center said it plans to reimagine the science center, seeking to better use the space and bring in new exhibits. It also hopes to expose more young people to the facility.
“For 20 years, Whitaker Center has been a cultural resource for the Harrisburg region, and collaborating with Harrisburg University builds on our core mission as a community hub for learning and creativity,” said CEO Ted Black. “This lease arrangement gives us an opportunity to attract the next generation of young professionals who will help shape the community, giving these young minds a first-hand understanding of the critical role the center plays in our community’s cultural enrichment.”