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Children's museum plan draws interest and concerns

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Ann Fiore
Thursday, January 24, 2008
— Building a children’s museum in Janesville is an idea that bursts with possibilities.

Done right, a children’s museum could draw visitors to Janesville. It could be paired with a historical museum that would teach folks about local history. It could grow new businesses and give local kids another learning environment.

Over the last three days, consultants studying the feasibility of such a museum have heard many reasons to support one.

And they’ve also heard a common concern: What will it cost?

“I think there’s a high level of interest” in a children’s museum, said consultant Joe Maude, who spent Monday through Wednesday meeting with focus groups in Janesville.

“With that, there’s a pragmatic sense that the initial funding and ongoing funding is key to its success,” Maude said.

The idea for a children’s museum sprang from a group project at Forward Janesville’s Leadership Academy. The group saw a need for a children’s attraction that would have regional interest.

A nonprofit organization, Janesville Museum, Inc., formed last year. In November, the organization got a $30,000 grant to hire consultants from Vandewalle & Associates and The Maude Group to conduct a feasibility study.

The consultants have met with 15 focus groups, including business people, parents, day-care providers, and city and school officials. More opportunities for input will be available in coming months, Maude said.

On Wednesday, three city council members and a couple of city officials discussed the pros and cons of a museum. A few enthused about Kenosha’s museum complex and how Janesville could learn from it.

Council member Paul Williams said he’d like to see a combined historical and children’s museum. Children’s museums usually only attract kids up to age 11.

“If you combine the two, you’re opening it up to a larger market,” Williams said.

Participants also stressed the need for extra space for events and a gallery for traveling exhibits, which would spark repeat visits.

Location would be important, they agreed, and downtown might not offer the right space. Other possibilities: Palmer Park, the Janesville Ice Skating Center property or the riverfront.

The right location “has got to be able to house what we want to do,” said Council President George Brunner.

But who would cover the cost?

City council member Bill Truman said he wouldn’t support a museum if it relied on tax dollars. The city already has slashed funding for the historical Tallman House, he said.

“To cut one jewel to open another jewel, I couldn’t support it,” Truman said.

Brunner questioned the city’s role and whether it would have to provide a site.

“If we’re talking a major contribution to the construction cost … or operating cost … I think that’s another debate,” he said. “I personally can’t see a lot of support for that.”

Every project is different, Maude said. Some cities have been more involved with museum projects than others.

Museum funding can come from many sources, he said, including foundations, corporate sponsors, donors, fund-raisers, grants and endowments.

Janesville Museum, Inc., invited about 240 people to participate in the focus groups. About 80 attended, and 20 to 30 more e-mailed and faxed ideas, said Alexis Kuklenski, a city planner who serves on the steering committee.

What’s next

Over the next four months, consultants from Vandewalle & Associates and The Maude Group will analyze public feedback. They will study what type of museum Janesville could support, the museum’s mission and what other cities are doing. They’ll identify the audience and estimate attendance, size and cost.

They also will meet with the Janesville Museum, Inc., steering committee and get more information from the community. The final report should be finished by May, said Joe Maude of The Maude Group.

Last updated: 1:03 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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