The Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District has received a $3 million grant to transform the bridge’s southern visitor area into an open-air interactive lesson in suspension bridge engineering.

The money from the National Science Foundation will “informally create a classroom on the science and engineering and technology associated with building the bridge,” according to Golden Gate Bride spokeswoman Mary Currie.

“This will entirely change the visiting experience and make it a thousand times better than it is today,” she said.

The interactive exhibits, tentatively scheduled to open shortly before the bridge’s 75th anniversary in May 2010, will center on a 92-foot reproduction of the 1.2-mile bridge. The 24 satellite exhibits will include an exact size replica of the bridge’s underwater bases, Currie said, which are “about the size of a house.”

Right now bridge authorities are working with an architecture firm doing some site planning in the already congested visitor area.

Currie said some space in a nearby maintenance yard might be opened up to accommodate both project and visitors, and planners want to use the installation process to improve circulation for pedestrians and bicyclists traversing the bridge.

The exhibits will help educate the Golden Gate’s 10 million annual visitors on the science and engineering concepts that helped build the iconic bridge, Currie said, including principles of suspension engineering and tensile, or pulling force.

Currie said a “dream team” of engineers from Stanford, Princeton and Duke universities, experienced museum consultants and other local institutions like The Exploratorium and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area helped assemble the grant application.

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