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Something new for Bucks County kids to do with opening of new museum in New Hope

The Bucks County Children’s Museum opens a new world of whimsy for kids in New Hope this week. The museum was created to give children ages 8 and under an interactive space to explore the culture and history of Bucks County. It is the first youth-themed museum in Bucks County, and one of few in the Philadelphia-area. The opening marks a re-birth for the space that used to house the New Hope branch of the James A. Michener Art Museum.

The museum has a motley assortment of interactive exhibits, all intended to teach young children about Bucks County. One such exhibit is a “replica of a vintage Bucks County train,” where young kids can pretend to “serve (food) in the gallery kitchen,” exclaims Mandee Kuenzle, communications director at the museum. Sticking with transportation, the museum also allows visitors to walk through a 12-foot long replica of a Bucks County covered bridge. Kids can also take advantage of a locally themed archeological dig space, a tree house with science lessons, and a spot to build and race K’nex cars.

Kuenzle vows that local teachers had a sizable role in the creation of each exhibit. Earlier this year, a group of 20 Bucks County teachers took their own field trip to the museum to create curriculum germane to young children. These educators represented some of the biggest school districts in the county, including Central Bucks, Council Rock, New Hope-Solebury, and the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. Kuenzle is quick to add that the assistant superintendent for elementary education at the populous Central Bucks School District serves on the museum’s Board of Directors.

Children should now have more of a place to call home in artsy New Hope, thanks to the museum. Kuenzle cited New Hope’s vibrant arts and culture scene as one reason why the museum decided to hold class in the borough. Kuenzle also expressed a desire to tap into New Hope’s tourist culture, making it clear that her exhibits aren’t merely open for local youth. Other children’s themed activities in and near New Hope, such as the New Hope and Ivyland Railroad and Peddler’s Village should also jive well. New Hope is an interesting location, as it is not centrally located in the county, and is actually closer to parts of New Jersey than some corners of Bucks. 

It is remarkable that the children’s museum is able to open such a comprehensive set of displays in the middle of a recession. Both private citizens and corporate sponsors played a big role in financing. The automotive giant Subaru and Teva Pharmaceuticals both sponsored, while the Bucks/Montgomery Counties chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry donated a whole exhibit. Finally, K’nex gave a large donation towards their exhibit.  

Source: Mandee Kuenzle
Writer: Andy Sharpe

Art expansion: Bucks County's Mercer Museum opens a multi-million dollar wing

Located in Bucks County's Doylestown for nearly a century now, the Mercer Museum is so highly regarded as a cultural and historic institution that it was registered as a National Historic Landmark in 1985. For decades, schoolchildren, amateur anthropologists and tourists from throughout the Philadelphia area and beyond have studied the many thousands of handmade tools and cultural artifacts on display there--all of them objects that were created prior to the Industrial Revolution.

But because the museum has literally run out of space, and has no room for traveling exhibits, the Mercer has seemingly always had the unfortunate reputation of being the sort of place visitors experience only once in a lifetime.

"A lot of people would say, 'Oh, I visited you in fourth grade, and I haven't been back since,'" says Gayle Shupack, a museum spokesperson. "So we really needed to give people a reason to come back again and again, to visit us," she adds.

That reason, it turns out, is a new $12.5 million, 13,000-square-foot wing that is being unveiled to the museum-going public on June 18. And although a series of traveling exhibitions have already been booked to appear in the new addition, the wing's inaugural show will actually be a rare exhibit featuring items from the Mercer's own 40,000-piece collection. Some of them have never before been publicly shown.

The new wing is also a green-friendly space. Recycled blue jeans were used as insulation, for instance, and the restrooms feature water-conserving fixtures. "It was our chance to come up to the 21st century," Shupack says.

A 1,000-square-foot education space known as the Learning Center will also be located in the new wing, and the changing exhibition gallery clocks in at 3,500 square feet. During the wing's opening day, the first 100 visitors to the museum, says Shupack, will be admitted free-of-charge.

Source: Gayle Shupack, Mercer Museum
Writer: Dan Eldridge

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SEPTA receives $6.4M in federal grants to develop transit asset management system

Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey announced last Tuesday that Pennsylvania would receive $47 million in federal transit and infrastructure grants as part of the Federal Transit Administration's State of Good Repair program. As SEPTA updated its hybrid bus fleet two years ago, the lion's share of the funding went to Pittsburgh's Allegheny County Port Authority for a clean diesel fleet of their own. But SEPTA didn't come away empty handed, receiving $8.1 million for two infrastructure improvements a long time coming.

The first grant will revamp SEPTA's Parkside Bus Loop, helping reconnect this West Philly neighborhood. But the second, more universal improvement will aid in future upgrades. Using $6.4 million, SEPTA will install an asset management system to aid in record-keeping as many of Philadelphia's transit assets come up for repairs.

"A lot of our infrastructure dates back to the early 1900's and were taken over from other private companies," says SEPTA CFO Richard Burnfield. "What the FTA was trying to focus on is knowing what you have out there in the field before you can make an assessment as to what your overall needs are, coming up with a plan for when things should be replaced."

The system will help SEPTA keep better records so when funding is available, the authority can make a more organized, more compelling case for further federal dollars as the fleet is upgraded.

"Right now, we do a very good job of managing our assets so while the records are not as computerized as we'd like them to be, we have so much knowledge within our engineering staff that I feel we make excellent decisions," says Burnfield. "But I think this will help us going forward so we can do a second check on things as our staff reaches retirement."

Source: Richard Burnfield, SEPTA
Writer: John Steele

Amtrak stops at 30th Street Station to announce high-speed rail plan

In science fiction novels and books about the future, a few technologies are boilerplate: flying cars, meals in pill form and the ability to teleport instantly from place to place. National commuter rail company Amtrak took another step toward teleportation on Tuesday with its announcement of a high-speed rail vision plan. In Tuesday's news conference from University City's 30th Street Station, with Governor Ed Rendell on hand, Amtrak officials laid out their goal to create a line with average speeds well over 130 mph, saving passengers between one and two hours on average.

"Amtrak is putting forward a bold vision of a realistic and attainable future that can revolutionize transportation, travel patterns and economic development in the Northeast for generations," says Amtrak President and CEO Joseph Boardman.

The plan, entitled A Vision for High-Speed Rail in the Northeast Corridor, proposes a full build-out to be completed by 2040. Its construction, Amtrak says, would create more than 40,000 full-time jobs annually over a 25-year period, building new track, tunnels, bridges, stations, and other infrastructure. Predictably, the cost for such a project is high, $4.7 billion annually over 25 years. But Amtrak's feasibility studies peg the Northeast as a "mega-region" capable of drawing the type of rail traffic to make such an investment profitable. And with some premier legislative voices like New Jersey's Frank Lautenberg and Massachusetts' John Kerry already voicing their support, we may be teleporting out of 30th Street Station sooner than we think.

"Amtrak's High Speed Rail plan will create jobs, cut pollution and help us move towards a modern and reliable transportation system network in the Northeast," said Kerry in a recent statement. "As countries around the world continue to build out their transportation systems, we
cannot afford to fall further behind. This is an important down payment on the massive commitment necessary to bridge our infrastructure gap." 

Source: Joseph Boardman, Amtrak
Writer: John Steele

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