KC may get a new children’s museum

The emphasis will be on teaching sciences through literacy.
Monday, February 26, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:34 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

SHAWNEE, Kan. — The Kansas City area already has museums targeted to children. But backers of a proposed children’s museum based on literature say the market can bear one more and that the proposed museum’s focus would make it a regional destination.

“It’s Kansas City’s turn to build a world-class museum,” said Lauranne Hess, who founded Beyond the Book in 2003.

That organization, which uses literacy to teach science, art and math, is looking to merge with the Wonderscope Children’s Museum in Shawnee.

The project’s backers hope to have a 36,500-square-foot museum — with a potential price tag of $15 million — up and running by the summer of 2009. They say such a museum could draw 150,000 visitors a year from a six-state area.

Wonderscope, a nonprofit museum housed in a former elementary school, focuses on science. Supporters of a new museum say merging that with Beyond the Book’s literacy emphasis would set it apart from Science City in Kansas City, Mo., and the Children’s Museum of Kansas City in Kansas City, Kan.

“Children’s museums are becoming the last safe space where families can connect,” Hess said. “Kids can’t be sent out to play like they used to, and we want to build a place where families can leave the outside world behind and play together.”

A new museum would likely be located in Johnson County, but Wonderscope chairwoman Christine Hamele said a task force studying the proposal is open to other locations.

The eight-member task force has been meeting since January and is expected to make its final recommendation to the Wonderscope and Beyond the Book boards in April.

Supporters project an annual operating budget of $2.3 million and hope to launch a capital campaign this spring.

“When you walk through that door, we want everything to be kid-friendly and kid-focused,” Hamele said. “We want them to have a ’Wow’ moment, so not only the kids are learning, but if I’m a mom from Iowa, it’s worth a four-hour car ride to come and visit.

“We don’t want the museum to be the place where dad drops the kids off, plops down a pile of quarters and leaves after 30 minutes,” she added. “We want to have the appeal of an amusement park, but the children are learning and the parents aren’t getting robbed for $50 for a $1 stuffed animal.”

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