A judge ruled in favor of the Museum of Natural History on Monday, allowing it to proceed with construction of the Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation. The new building will mostly be constructed within the museum’s existing footprint, though it will also take up about one-quarter of an acre of the surrounding park on the Columbus Avenue side.
The museum hopes to open the center by 2021.
“The expansion will significantly enhance museum education programs, visitors’ experience, and scientific work,” the museum said in a statement.
Judge Lynn Kotler dismissed a suit brought by Community United to Protect Theodore Roosevelt Park that had attempted to block construction of the building, in part because of the dangers that construction could pose to the surrounding community. The opposition group argued that the museum did not have control of the park that surrounds it and thus would need to go through much more stringent reviews before the city could give the project the green light.
The battle centered on the lease between the city and the museum, signed in 1877. Opponents claimed the lease only gave the museum rights to occupy its current footprint, not expand deeper into the park. But the judge dismissed those claims. She also removed the temporary restraining order that had stopped the museum from proceeding with construction.
The opponents are considering an appeal.
“We are obviously disappointed by the decision, as we had high hopes for this case and for an outcome which we believed would be favorable to the community,” wrote Michael Hiller, attorney for Community United. “We continue to believe in the lawsuit we brought, notwithstanding the decision today, and are considering an appeal.”
The museum, which will be removing some trees but adding others, also says it hopes to “minimize disruption” in the area. “We have also made a significant contribution to the ongoing maintenance and care of the park and will of course work closely with our partners to minimize any disruption throughout the construction project,” the museum said.
Clarification: The museum now expects the center to open in 2021, not 2020 as we previously reported.