The Westchester Children’s Museum’s (WCM) logo is a silhouette of a child eagerly leaping over a “velvet rope.”
By Bill Lawyer
The Westchester Children’s Museum’s (WCM) logo is a silhouette of a child eagerly leaping over a “velvet rope.” The implication is that the child can’t wait to get into the museum and start having fun.
Well, the more than 21-year wait is almost over. On July 23, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino and WCM board president Corinne Zola signed the contract and turned over a symbolic key – signifying that the process of building the children’s museum can begin in earnest.
The museum will be located in the newly restored space formerly occupied – many years ago – by the men’s bath house, located on the Boardwalk at the southeast end of Playland Amusement Park.
Now a 22,000 square-foot empty shell of high ceilinged space, the facility will, within two years, become a hands-on center for all kinds of fun and exciting year-round learning activities.
Before that iconic leaping child can enter the museum, however, WCM Executive Director Tracy Kay says that two main things have to happen: their fundraising efforts have to be shifted into high gear and final touches have to be made on the details of the exhibits and infrastructure. The plans are currently being reviewed by the Westchester County Department of Public Works.
As for fundraising, Kay explains that, “Many of our prospective supporters wanted to wait until the deal was done before making their contributions.”
Just two days after the signing ceremony, Kay, Development Director Julie Sootin, and several WCM board members met at the empty building to plan a major fundraising event.
They’ve got their work cut out for them. Seven million dollars needs to be raised just to carry out the infrastructure improvements to support the Museum’s twelve public spaces. Projects include HVAC, electrical work, lighting, and major revisions in the layout of the “empty” space. Many of the spaces – such as the water areas – will require elaborate infrastructure setups.
The public spaces include nine interactive exhibit areas: a climbing structure, toddler beach, three water sites, music, wind and air, a shadow theater, and a “build your own roller coaster” area. Other spaces are classrooms, a gift shop, and a café.
These are projected to cost nearly $3 million to make and install. Right now the WCM has about $2 million in assets, according to Kay.
Along with all the public space, the building will include office space for the administrative and program staff, restrooms, and storage/support space – over 8,000 square feet in all.
Getting back to that image of the child leaping over the velvet rope, Kay and Zola reminisced recently about the long and winding road that led to a museum at the Playland Bath House.
Back in 1992, the various Junior Leagues in Westchester started work on establishing a science museum.
Things progressed to the point that in the mid-90s a separate “Scienceport” entity was established, operating first in space at a school in White Plains, and then at a temporary “Dinamation” exhibit at Playland.
Unfortunately, the expected income did not come in, and Scienceport went bankrupt.
When asked what lesson had been learned from this experience, Kay answered: “The idea of a science museum was not right for Westchester. Studies showed that what people really wanted was a children’s museum.” He went on to explain that a science museum is geared more to older children, is very expensive to operate, and requires much more space to be economically viable.
Studies and surveys showed that schools and families with children 2-12 are looking for places to go within a 15-mile radius. Fortunately, there are no children’s museums within such a distance from Playland.
When asked if the WCF will compete with local nature centers, art centers, and nearby zoos/aquaria, Kay said that he looks forward to partnering with such facilities to take advantage of what each has to offer. “For example, we could work with Edith Read Sanctuary to carry out beach study programs and activities.”
Once the Museum is in operation, the board projects that an annual budget of $2 million will be required to carry out operations. This includes a staff of 15 to 20 full- and part-time employees. It also includes advertising and marketing. They anticipate over 200,000 visitors – not including whatever traffic they may get from Playland visitors.
Maintenance and some financial operations will be contracted. Sootin expects that all but about $350,000 of the income will be earned — from admissions, program fees, events, and memberships.
Kay says that the WCM has had a very successful track record in getting grants to support their “museum without walls” outreach programs for needy groups, and he is certain that this will continue to be the case.