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Children’s museum in the middle of $2M update

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The “Oh Rubbish!” exhibit at the Children’s Discovery Museum in Normal will be replaced, two other exhibits expanded and three others updated under a nearly $2 million master plan.

“We looked at our current exhibits and felt really good about the initiatives and themes  … we didn’t feel we needed to change directions but a few needed to be updated and enhanced,” said museum Manager Shari Buckellew.

The projects include building an energy-efficient house, expanding the toddler backyard exhibit and updating the medical area.

The town-owned museum opened in uptown Normal seven years ago this month and expects to welcome its 1 millionth visitor this spring.

“For the first six years, our efforts concentrated on building out all the exhibits,” said Deputy City Manager Pamela Reece. The final piece of that plan — the Arts Inc. exhibit on the third floor — opened in fall 2010.

“Now the plan is to continue to keep things fresh … keep continued interest,” said Reece.

The first step of the master plan — replacing the water table — was completed last fall. State grants and funding from the museum guild covered the $85,000 cost.

Buckellew said grants also will help pay replacing “Oh Rubbish!” with “You’ve Got the Power.”

“The exhibit will show kids they have the power to make good choices about recycling, reusing and renewable energy,” Buckellew said.

The first component will be a $175,000 standalone feature that will allow kids to compare renewable resources (such as wind) and “not as renewable” resources (such as coal) in a variety of ways. It is expected to be completed by or before December 2012.

An Illinois Department of Natural Resources grant will cover two-thirds of the cost and the museum has received $20,000 from Commerce Bank and $10,000 from an Indiana donor-advised fund. Buckellew hopes proceeds from the museum’s annual style show and “Sweet Discoveries” event in February will cover the remainder, and possibly more that could be put toward the second phase of the project.

“The rest of the exhibit will be a house kids can climb through and see how power is used in a home with messages on how to make better choices,” she said.

Reece said the exhibit not only is a natural for the museum, which was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design silver status and recently added rooftop solar panels, but also ties into the energy efficient focus throughout uptown.

The house will cost an estimated $400,000. Buckellew said the museum will look into grants for the project, but other funding for it and the remaining projects — expanding the toddler backyard exhibit and updating the medical area — will fall on the foundation board.

“We have a big job ahead,” said foundation board President Larry Nolan. “We really feel like the museum is the crown jewel of uptown Normal; it’s a community treasure and will be here for a long time.” The master plan will “help position the museum to stay fresh; keep children coming back,” he said.

The foundation is in the midst of starting a fundraising appeal to museum members, current donors, past supporters and private and corporate foundations, he said.

Major updates

The Children’s Discovery Museum’s new master plan will create an exhibit, expand two existing exhibits and update several others over the next four or more years. Here are the projects:

-- “Oh Rubbish!” on the second floor will be replaced with “You’ve Got the Power,” which will focus on recycling, reusing and renewable energy. The $575,000 exhibit will include a house for kids to explore.

-- The toddler backyard on the first floor will expand to “My Great Backyard” and include an infant area. The $270,000 exhibit already has the help of a $60,000 grant from PNC.

-- The three-part medical area will be renovated to a single large area known as “Healthy Me.” The $270,000 exhibit will include a dental, eye and medical “clinic” area, an “emergency room” and an ambulance.

-- The production wall in AgMazing will be upgraded; “Imagine Air” will be revamped; and “Innovation Station” will be renovated.

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