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Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe

From sorrow to celebration, Tesla Science Center hosts an evening of festive cheer

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe hosts its annual Holiday Lighting event on Saturday, Dec. 2, less than two weeks after a devastating fire broke out on the property. Photo by Bill Landon

The resilience of the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, an international treasure located in Shoreham, was on full display Saturday evening, Dec. 2, during its annual Holiday Lighting event.

The festivities occurred less than two weeks after a disastrous structure fire caused extensive damage to the historical building on-site. [See story, “Devastating fire engulfs Tesla Science Center in Shoreham,” Dec. 1, TBR News Media.]

There were arts and crafts activities, a snowmaking machine, a science exhibit and hot chocolate for all those attending. Marc Alessi, TSCW executive director, recognized the first responders who were just a minute away when the flames broke loose on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Local elected officials addressed the crowd, vowing to help in the historic site’s reconstruction efforts.

Alessi quipped that the fire engine sirens were no cause for alarm as the Shoreham Fire Department escorted Santa Claus, who was then swamped by the children in attendance.

Those looking to help in Wardenclyffe’s rise from the ashes can visit www.teslasciencecenter.org/give.

The historical structure at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe underwent significant structural damage after a fire on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Photo courtesy Tesla Science Center

Just days before the fire erupted, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was marching along a path toward prosperity.

Center officials held a gala Nov. 16, announcing a $1.15 million installment of capital funding toward its anticipated $20 million restoration and redevelopment project.

Earlier, the center broke ground on the project, with demolition ongoing.

The center was ushering in a new era in its storied history.

“We were never in better shape,” said TSCW Executive Director Mark Alessi. “We were finally making the progress we had been working so hard for for many years.”

That’s when the flames broke loose.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 21, a conflagration — the cause of which is still unknown — enveloped the historic building on-site, designed by famed architect Stanford White.

In the aftermath, center officials are working to remediate the situation. During a press event on Tuesday, Nov. 28, Mark Thaler, partner at Thaler Reilly Wilson Architecture & Preservation of Albany, reported that the original building was “fireproof for the most part,” noting that the original brick walls remain standing after the fire.

“We have lost some of the roof structure, which will be able to be restored, and we’re poised and ready to do that,” he said, adding that the ensuing stages include cleaning out the building, securing the walls and drying out the interior.

Mission Rebuild

Given the extent of the damages, the center is now calling upon benefactors from both near and far to bolster the restoration work.

Coined Mission Rebuild, the nonprofit has launched a $3 million emergency fund drive on Indiegogo. Mission Rebuild represents a separate fundraising effort from the $20 million redevelopment campaign. 

Public officials from across levels of government attended Tuesday’s event, pledging their support.

“This is a really important historic site — not just for this county or this state or this country but worldwide,” said New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk). “We will do everything we can without question on the state level to continue to get the funding you need to get this project to the end.”

Deputy Suffolk County Executive Jon Kaiman said, “Buildings can burn down and then be rebuilt. The ideas behind them — the person, the history, the narrative that was created over 100 years ago — still exist.”

The deputy county executive continued, “Because the story behind it is so strong, so important, so relevant, we know that we can all stand together and continue this journey that was started so long ago.”

Suffolk County Legislator-elect Chad Lennon (R-Rocky Point) thanked the local firefighters “for taking such care” in extinguishing the fire while preserving the structure. Despite the setback to the organization’s momentum, he pledged to help the center continue carrying out its mission. 

“It was one step back, and we’re going to take two steps forward,” Lennon maintained.

Also attending the press event, Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) sang an optimistic tune: “Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this Tesla Center will rise as well,” she forecasted. “We will help you raise your money. We will get you back to where you were,” adding, “At the end of the day, Tesla was successful — and so will the Tesla Science Museum and this organization.”

To donate to Mission Rebuild, please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/fire-at-tesla-s-lab-immediate-restoration-needed.

Nikola Tesla’s Wardenclyffe wireless station, located in Shoreham, as seen in 1904. Public domain photo

Tragedy recently struck our community.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, a regional and international treasure nestled in the heart of Shoreham, went up in flames last Tuesday, Nov. 21.

While the cause of the fire is unknown, the damages to the historical structure on-site are extensive. This sad news comes as the nonprofit organization was reaching its peak, embarking upon a $20 million redevelopment project that is now set back for some time.

Considerable effort and planning lie ahead to remediate the wreckage. Fortunately, we can all lend a hand in getting the center back on its feet.

On Tuesday, Nov. 28, center officials launched Mission Rebuild, a $3 million fundraising campaign to finance the necessary restoration work. This is a separate fundraiser from the $20 million campaign for site redevelopment. We also can empathize with the Tesla Center.

Historic preservation is an arduous, often expensive endeavor. Local not-for-profits and private benefactors invest their time and dollars in preserving historically and architecturally significant structures for our community’s benefit. These places connect us to our shared past, linking one generation of Long Islanders to the next.

If we fail to invest in historic preservation, then we run the risk of losing our sense of place and appreciation for the land. This very rootlessness can give way to unfettered demolition, development, sprawl and other ills that may imperil our collective way of life.

The brick building of revolutionary scientist Nikola Tesla’s laboratory at Wardenclyffe — its roof severely damaged by the fire — was designed by famed architect Stanford White, whose roots lie in Suffolk’s North Shore. This intersection of architectural and scientific history is unrivaled anywhere else, which is another crucial reason for us to intervene.

And what could be a more noble cause than science, that exploration into the depths of the unknown, unraveling the mysteries of the universe and elevating our human understanding?

Along the North Shore, we are blessed with a rich scientific tradition spanning several institutions, such as Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Brookhaven National Lab and Stony Brook University. Tesla’s lab is a part of that complex. Without it, our homegrown scientific community would be diminished.

As lovers of history, science, and community, we can all lend a hand in this effort. This is a call to people everywhere to help restore this vital place in our community and world.

To donate to Mission Rebuild, please visit www.indiegogo.com/projects/fire-at-tesla-s-lab-immediate-restoration-needed.

Local firefighters extinguish the blaze at Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday, Nov. 21. Photo courtesy Tesla Science Center

By Samantha Rutt

A devastating fire broke out at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe on Tuesday evening, Nov. 21, causing significant damage to the historic building. Firefighters from 11 departments responded shortly before 5 p.m. to find the laboratory engulfed in flames.

The fire, still under investigation, was reported to have ignited again early Wednesday morning, causing extensive damage to the main building’s roof and interior. While no injuries were reported, losing this important historical site devastated the scientific community.

The Tesla Science Center said in a statement released on Thanksgiving, “We are thankful to the deputy fire coordinators at the Suffolk County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services — and to the fearless teams from the Brookhaven National Laboratory Fire Department [and all other responding departments]. Their relentless efforts to protect our community are a beacon of hope and strength.”

“The cause of the fire is still unknown,” science center representative Mark Grossman said. “It’s still under investigation, though they’ve ruled out arson. There’s no concern about it being a criminal offense — it was likely accidental. But they’re still in the investigation stage.”

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe was the last remaining laboratory of famed inventor Nikola Tesla. One of the most influential figures in the history of electricity, he conducted groundbreaking experiments at the site in the early 1900s.

The bones of the building, constructed in 1901, have been reported to appear intact. However, the full extent of the damage is yet to be determined.

“It brings a sense of relief to share that the structural integrity of the building dating back to 1901 seems to have withstood the ordeal,” Marc Alessi, executive director of the nonprofit, said in a statement. “This resilience is a testament to its original robust construction and durability.”

The site will be evaluated and assessed by the site engineer, historical architect and structural engineer, along with the Suffolk County Police Department, the Brookhaven Town fire marshal and the county’s Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, for damages in the coming days.

The center was undergoing renovation at the time of the fire. The renovations were intended to restore the building to its original condition and make it more accessible.

“There was a capital project that would be started shortly,” Grossman said. “We’re embarking on a $20 million renovation that would turn it into a true museum open to the public.”

In an interview, Grossman addressed fundraising efforts to raise money to repair what was damaged.

“There’s going to need to be an infusion of some donations to get things back to where they were,” he told TBR News Media. “It’s going to delay the capital project somewhat. I can’t tell you the exact amount of delay.”

The Tesla Science Center is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations from the public. In the wake of the fire, the organization has launched a fundraising campaign to help rebuild the laboratory.

The fire has sparked an outpouring of support from the community. Many people have expressed sadness at the science center’s loss and pledged their support for restoration efforts.

Amid the distressing news, Vladimir Božović, consul general for the Republic of Serbia and the consulate general team, pledged to provide “any necessary assistance” to the science center in the coming period.

The consulate’s statement further notes, “Our thoughts are with all those who hold deep respect and admiration for the invaluable work and dedication demonstrated by the Tesla Science Center in preserving the legacy of Nikola Tesla, a great Serbian-American inventor.”

In this episode, we offer live updates from Brookhaven Town Hall as the future of Jefferson Plaza in Port Jeff Station hangs in the balance. Plus, a shocking turn as a fire engulfs the Tesla Science Center in Shoreham — we unpack the latest details and discuss restoration plans. Winter sports season previews and valuable insights on managing your investments are all in one episode.

Join us for a dive into local news on The Pressroom Afterhour: Keeping it Local with TBR.

Visit tbrnewsmedia.com to read these stories and more. Follow us on:

 

Pictured left to right: Volunteer Christopher Wesselborg, Executive Director Marc Alessi, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker, Chief Operating Officer Douglas Borge. Photo from Sarah Anker

It was a night to remember. 

On Saturday, Aug. 28, Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) was one of many who attended the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe’s Sound of Science musical event in Shoreham. 

The event, sponsored by the TSCW and the Rites of Spring Music Festival, featured interactive exhibits and activities related to the connection between science and music, a tribute to scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, and electric musical performances from the Rites of Spring Ensemble.

The show included 12 musicians who played innovative music on electric instruments. Unlike other concerts, the show was featured at a unique venue and open-air theater with Tesla’s famous tower base as center stage and his laboratory as a backdrop. 

It began with an interactive surround-sound experience on the octagonal tower base, plus exhibits featuring singing Tesla coils, theremin and the science of sound.  

After, the Rites of Spring Ensemble performed an electric concert featuring new music by Kanasevich, Mazzoli, Clyne, Akiho, Rodriguez, Romitelli and Little. 

 “The Sound of Science was a fantastic event that was enjoyed by all,” Anker said. “Thank you to the many Tesla Science Center board, staff and volunteers that continue to find creative and exciting ways to share the contributions of the world-renowned scientist and inventor, Nikola Tesla, with our community.”

The TSCW is a not-for-profit organization that aims to develop the site of Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory into a global science center that provides innovative learning experiences, supports the advancement of new technologies, and preserves Nikola Tesla’s legacy.

In July, the organization hosted another event to celebrate Tesla’s 165th birthday. 

Earlier this year, they held a “Metal for Tesla” event where people donated previously used metal to raise funds towards rebuilding Tesla’s famed towner on the Shoreham grounds. 

For more information about upcoming events and programs or if you’re interested in volunteering at TSCW call (631)-886-2632 or visit teslasciencecenter.org.

Photo by Julianne Mosher

Famed scientist, inventor and entrepreneur Nikola Tesla would have been 165 this year, and the best way to celebrate his life and legacy was to party at his old lab in Shoreham. 

On Saturday, July 10, hundreds of people gathered at the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe for the Tesla Birthday Expo and Birthday Night Show.

The events featured a number of educational exhibits including many of the local STEAM — science, technology, engineering, arts and math — exhibits, robotic clubs, Tesla coils, Tesla car showcase, amateur radio, battlebots, Maker Space trailer, local artisans and an interactive STEAM bus from New York Institute of Technology. The daytime event was coupled with a lively nighttime celebration featuring the band ArcAttack.

“What an amazing day to celebrate one of this world’s most acclaimed scientist and inventor,” said county Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai). “Thanks to the many TSCW volunteers, local and international community support, and the many partnerships with government, Nikola Tesla’s legacy will continue to inspire and encourage our future scientists.”

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. Known as a man before his time, he was deemed a genius while researching alternating current systems. He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He thought he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard from Niagara Falls. 

An inventor with hundreds of patents, he was involved in the invention of the radio, remote control and more.

In 1901 Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. A huge 187-foot tower was designed and constructed for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his heavier equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early ’30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to eventually buy the property in 2013, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

According to Doug Borge, chief operating officer at TSCW, “At our annual Tesla Birthday events, we not only celebrate Nikola Tesla’s contributions, but also his living legacy that we each build upon through science and innovation.”

The mission of Tesla’s last remaining lab is to develop the site into a transformative global science center that embraces his bold spirit of invention, provides innovative learning experiences, fosters the advancement of new technologies and preserves his legacy in the Tesla Museum.

The group imagines a world where people appreciate Tesla’s contributions, are inspired by his scientific audacity and engage in the future betterment of humanity.

“Today is a perfect example of where we are as an organization,” Borge said. “We’re a community hub for people that love science technology, that are associated with Nikola Tesla and to be a resource for people to leverage, learn and become their own version of Tesla.”

In general, technology and interactivity at this year’s Tesla Birthday Expo were more engaging and popular than ever, he added. New and expanded STEAM exhibits allowed attendees to get hands-on with Tesla inventions and technology. 

ArcAttack made their first visit to Wardenclyffe and took things to a whole new level with a performance at the night shows featuring Tesla coils, rock music and lightning-producing electric instruments. Volunteers in the audience were “zapped” in a Faraday cage, including TSCW’s executive director Marc Alessi.

“We weren’t sure what to expect in terms of attendance at this year’s Tesla Birthday events, due to the pandemic,” Borge said. “Fortunately, we had a great turnout at both the daytime Tesla Birthday Expo and night show.”

Borge added that “the expo is interesting because you can see the crowds clustering around specific exhibits and interacting with enthusiasm.”  

Some fan favorites were the 3D scan that showed the interior of Tesla’s laboratory as it looks today, the robotics and maker space area, along with the go-carts and robots zipping around. 

“This is such an exciting event for the community to learn about important advances in technology,” said attorney and advocate Laura Ahearn, of Port Jefferson. “I’m really excited about getting to meet community members that come here, and some of the high school students that have built from scratch robotic devices better than anything … when I was in high school, I wish I would have had the opportunities that these young students have because it’s going to help them in their future.”

Borge said within the next few weeks, demolition of the dilapidated, noncontributing factory building suffocating Tesla’s laboratory will begin. Additionally, they plan to break ground on its visitor center that will allow them to pilot exhibits and engage and educate more visitors at Wardenclyffe. 

“These are important next steps in the development of TSCW and a moment that many of our global supporters have been looking forward to since TSCW’s record-breaking crowdfund in 2012, which raised $1.4 million in six weeks from 33,000 donors in 108 countries,” he said. “These funds, along with a matching grant from New York State and contributions from supporters like the Musk Foundation, enabled us to purchase Wardenclyffe in 2013. Fast forward to 2021, and TSCW is now positioned to start renovations after raising $10.2 million and acquiring the necessary plans and permits. It’s important to note that we still need to raise another $9.8 million to finish developing the site.”

County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) also made an appearance.

“It’s just really exciting to encourage interest in science and to recognize the history here on Long Island,” she said. “It has such an important impact in so many ways.”

The center will be hosting more events this summer, including the Sound of Science concert on Aug. 28 in collaboration with another nonprofit, Rites of Spring Festival, that will offer a unique immersive musical experience by electronic musicians and contemporary composers.  

Sept. 23 is TSCW’s Third Annual Gala fundraiser for an evening of virtual entertainment, auctions and tech surprises. 

Later in the year, Wardenclyffe will host a Halloween event on Oct. 30, and their annual holiday lighting on Dec. 3. 

Photo by Julianne Mosher

In an ongoing process to keep Nikola Tesla’s legacy alive on Long Island’s North Shore, the first-ever “Metal for Tesla” event was recently held, benefiting both the environment and the nonprofit’s cause.

The Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe, located in Shoreham, is Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory. A sad, but interesting history, the lab has been working toward becoming a science museum, that celebrates science, along with the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor. 

But the funds aren’t always easy to come by, and it’s taken the support from dozens of sponsors, fundraising, grants and crowdsourcing to get where they are today. 

On Saturday, March 20 from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., over 250 people attended the site and more than 16,000 people around the world shared the event to recycle in their areas and donate to the Tesla Center online. The center partnered with Gershow Recycling. 

Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi said they have recycled metal on the premise before, and since taking over the site, have recycled up to 62 tons (or 124,000 pounds) of metal. That has equated to be about $6,500.

This year, they raised approximately $9,500 in metal, plus the value of four cars, to support the rebuilding of Tesla’s lab into a museum and global science center for all. 

“It’s money that goes toward the mission, which is rehabilitating the lab and opening it to the public,” Alessi said. “But the mission is also spreading Nikola Tesla’s ethos … he was someone that was advocating for sustainability, conservation and the use of renewable energies in the 1890s. And in retrospect, he was right on the money.”

A man before his time

Alessi said that during the height of Tesla’s career, people didn’t know what he was trying to do. Born in what is now Croatia, and of Serbian descent, Nikola Tesla immigrated to the United States in 1884.

“But he was a man of the world,” Alessi said. 

He began working at the Edison Corporation, where he was immediately seen as a genius. Upon his research, he began realizing that alternating current systems — compared to Edison’s direct current systems — would be more beneficial and safer option. 

“With one power plant, you can power many neighborhoods and factories,” Alessi said. “Under Tesla’s use of AC, and the way he put it together, it could power motors …. Direct current, you would need a power plant every two miles. Can you imagine what our environment would be like if they tried to electrify doing that?”

He believed that energy didn’t have to be a rich man’s luxury. Energy could be available to all and powered naturally. He believed he could power the whole Northeastern seaboard with Niagara Falls. 

Tesla and Edison became engrossed in a battle, leaving Tesla to attempt to start his own company with plenty of struggle. Throughout his career, he had his ups and downs.

“Even though he had over 200 patents and invented radio, remote control, the speedometer, and the technology behind neon lighting, fluorescent lighting and early forms of X-ray,”  Alessi said, “Tesla didn’t look at other inventors as competition.”

For example, Guglielmo Marconi used 17 of Tesla’s patents to help create his single transmission. 

In the early 1900s Tesla acquired the Wardenclyffe property in Shoreham to test his theories of being able to wirelessly transmit electrical messages, funded by J.P. Morgan. The property housed a huge 187-foot tower for the purpose.

In 1903 creditors confiscated his equipment, and in 1917 the tower was demolished. The concrete feet used to hold the structure can still be seen on the property today. 

Tesla was eventually cut off, causing him to lose control of the site. The property became a film processing company in the early 30s, where harsh chemicals were dumped into the ground. The contaminated property was sold again and became shuttered in 1987. 

A decades-long cleanup ensued, and in 2007 the property was put back up for sale. 

The community — locally, nationally and even internationally — came together to fundraise to buy the property, preserve it and make it a real historic site. 

“They did a crowdfunding on Indiegogo, and at the time, it set a world record,” Alessi said. “They raised 1.4 million in six weeks, from 108 countries and 50 states — 33,000 donors,”

The site

Over the last few years, things have been moving along for the Tesla Science Center site. Through more fundraising and big-name sponsors (like Elon Musk who contributed some money), plans are continuously on the way. 

In September, renovations were completed on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s historic laboratory, originally constructed by architect Stanford White in 1902. This project was funded by a grant from the Robert Lion Gardiner Foundation — a foundation here on Long Island that focuses on funding to restore historic sites.

Alessi said the project costs about $20 million and so far, $10.2 million has been raised. Permits with the town and DEC are still under review to begin working on the site’s visitor center — a small white house in the front of the property, which had nothing to do with Tesla. He’s hoping for the demo permit and the center to be completed this year. 

“We will continue to raise capital,” he said. “We need at least five-to-10 million to finish the lab building and put exhibits there.”

Part of the process includes rebuilding the significant 187-foot tower that was once on the property.

“It was the tallest structure on Long Island, it went up almost 200-feet into the ground,” Alessi added.

Tesla had envisioned 14 towers around the world, with power plants similar to what the Wardenclyffe lab was. 

“The beauty of it, is this guy wanted to provide free energy to everybody,” he said. “Imagine everybody having free power with 14 power plants. It’s a beautiful story — and that’s what the part of what the tower was supposed to be.”

Bringing the metal back

It all comes full circle, Alessi said, and it’s quite ironic. 

“When Tesla lost control of the property, they demolished his famed tower, sold it for scrap and recycled it,” he said. “So now, we’re asking people to bring metal back to the site, so that we can restore the site, and one day we build the tower, too.”

Alessi said that since taking over the property, the center has always encouraged people to donate recycled metal to the bin on site. This year was the first time a whole event was dedicated to it. 

“This is something we plan to do every year,” Alessi said. “It helps raise funding for the lab, but it also helps celebrate who Tesla was. I think it’s a really great event.”

And people can still continue to donate metal to the cause.

“This is a guy that in the 1890s said, ‘Don’t go down the path of coal … we need to be sustainable,” Alessi said. “We need to conserve, so it makes us feel like we’re making him proud by doing this on his site.”

This article was updated to fix historical inaccuracies. 

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Legislator Sarah Anker and Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi. Photo from Anker’s office

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) recently presented the Tesla Science Center with a $6,000 grant, which is awarded to organizations that benefit tourism and/or cultural programming in Suffolk County. The grant was utilized to pay for operational costs related to the restoration of Nikola Tesla’s laboratory and the construction of a new visitor’s center. The Tesla Science Center plans to turn Nikola Tesla’s last remaining laboratory in Shoreham into a science museum celebrating science and the history and contributions of the famed scientist and inventor.

“Thank you to the Tesla Science Center for their devotion to the accessibility and advancement of technology, and to the preservation and restoration of the historic Nikola Tesla’s laboratory,” Anker said. “Our community has benefited from the presence of the center and the wide range of virtual resources available through their Virtual Science Center.”

The Tesla Science Center recently completed renovations on the chimney and cupola of Tesla’s laboratory. The center is moving forward in the next phase of renovations and is on track to complete the construction of the visitor’s center by next year. 

“The need for virtual education increased dramatically due to COVID-19, as educators, parents, and students looked for safe, connective e-learning options,” said Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi. “In response, Tesla Science Center aggressively expanded its virtual education programming. Thousands of people are benefitting, but we needed support to continue. Thanks to the Suffolk County Omnibus Grant facilitated by Legislator Anker, critically needed virtual education will be available to many more people in our community.”

While the museum and visitor center remain under construction, the center has created a Virtual Science Center that is available on their website. The Virtual Science Center features podcasts, informational videos, and virtual STEM camp programs and activities for all ages. For more information, please visit https://teslasciencecenter.org/

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Tesla Science Center Executive Director Marc Alessi at the current Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham. Photo by Kevin Redding

When the pandemic swept through Long Island in the past few months, when businesses closed and schools went online, the Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe in Shoreham has had to reimagine its efforts while hoping to still have in-person events at newly renovated buildings next year.

Last October, the nonprofit submitted its site plans to the Town of Brookhaven, with designs including first renovating the small, two-story house at the front of the property before starting renovations on the lab itself. Marc Alessi, the executive director of the science center, said construction had to halt due to the pandemic, but now the project has resumed after Phase 1 of reopening.

But in that time, the center has laterally moved its focus, according to the nonprofits’ executive director. Moving on to the virtual medium has allowed the center to refocus its education efforts, he said, while compelling them to come up with new fundraising opportunities. 

“It’s gratifying that even before we open our doors we’re starting to provide that content and this programming,” Alessi said.

From June into this month, the center has promoted multiple online activities. This includes a Sprint for STEAM: 5k Virtual Run/Walk/Roll for Virtual Education, where the center is hoping to raise $125,000 for virtual education programs through support or donations. The center has also started a Virtual Summer STEAM Camp for kids, led by the center’s new education director Hannah Weiss. Later this month, the center is also starting a Virtual Education Certificate Program with the New York Institute of Technology, which will specifically help teachers learn about different technologies used in distance learning. Alessi said several school districts nationally, plus a few on Long Island, will be participating, and kids from other states and even other countries are looking to participate in the virtual summer camp. This is in addition to the center’s Tesla Unwired video podcasts with scientists and other people in the tech world, which started back in April.

Alessi said this move to digital education meant they had a better foothold in a lagging economy being slammed by the pandemic.

“With everything that’s happening, we’re going all in on providing this virtual content,” he said. “We hired an education coordinator. We didn’t lay off staff, we hired staff during this crisis.”

The center is also hosting its annual Tesla Birthday Bash on July 11 differently this year, with demonstrations of a 17-foot Tesla Coil being hosted online, and the center will be showing an online and drive-in version of the movie “Tesla” several weeks before it comes out. Tickets for the drive-in screening are $150 per car, with the money going to support the center’s online education initiatives.

The science center came to be in 2012, when along with the website The Oatmeal, a small North Shore nonprofit, purchased the land with $1.4 million raised to help purchase the land. Alessi, who was brought on as executive director in 2016, said restoring the site and creating a museum is a $20 million project, of which they have raised $10 million in the past few years.

“We always felt this was a world historic site, and the fact that the world saved it really multiplies that feeling,” Alessi said.

As reconstruction continues on the laboratory building, famous for its historical nature also having been designed by renowned early 20th-century architect Stanford White, it unveils new mysteries. Workers rebuilding the chimney on the lab itself uncovered an arched brick opening in the base of the eastern chimney wall June 5, and the science center is still trying to understand why that was built into the original structure. 

Otherwise, the site plans for the larger context of the Tesla Center are still under review with the Town of Brookhaven.

But the future of the site still depends largely on what happens in the next year or so. Just like many places billing themselves as galleries or museums, many who want crowds to be able to come through and visit are depending on a vaccine for COVID-19 to more effectively ensure visitors’ safety.

“We’re lucky we’ve always stayed very lean as far as operations, and we’ve been able to create these air-tight budgets for this year,” Alessi said. “If this crisis lasts another year into next year, it could impact our programming.”