Metro-East News

Edwardsville Children’s Museum reopens after overhaul

There’s more than a new coat of paint at the revamped Edwardsville Children’s Museum.

The museum is emerging from a massive “Save the Museum” campaign, launched in November 2013 as the museum celebrated its 10th anniversary. The museum, which inhabits the old Leclaire Schoolhouse off Troy Road, operated on a bare-bones $90,000 budget and part-time staff for its 12,000 visitors a year.

“We had a number of years where our expenses exceeded our revenues, and we needed to rebuild our reserve,” said board president Ann Robertson.

The rent is only $1 a year, courtesy of the city of Edwardsville, which owns the building and the park in which it resides. The city also takes care of the grounds, snow removal and other tasks.

“It’s a nice partnership in that I don’t have to worry about anything outside the building,” Robertson said.

But most museums only cover 60 percent of costs through fees and admission, and the rest comes from fundraising and grants. Fundraising was a challenge for the museum, especially after a survey showed only 45 percent of Edwardsville residents were aware of its existence.

So the major fundraising campaign to save the museum also had to focus on getting information out to the public about the museum and its programs, Robertson said. A new website, marketing plan and a big sign on the busiest street in town helped a great deal, she said.

Local businesses stepped up to sponsor exhibits. “Star City,” the town for small children, includes a restaurant sponsored by Bella Milano, ice cream shop sponsored by Dairy Queen, dentist’s office sponsored by Hyten Family Dentistry, bank sponsored by Scott Credit Union and several more.

Renovations on the inside included a new computer room and space for exhibits by the Edwardsville YMCA and others, as well as a new porch and an outdoor food-gardening exhibit by Brase Farms that will begin as soon as the snow melts.

“The building is on the Historic Register, so anything we do has to meet those standards,” Robertson said.

While the city does not directly support the museum beyond the exterior maintenance, the parks and recreation department helped them get a grant for some improvements this year, Robertson said — including the new sign on Troy Road. They also received funding for a series of sensory boards that will be installed at a lower level, for younger children or children who use a wheelchair to access them easily.

But the museum overhaul went deeper than the building. They’ve established a new membership program, including individual memberships that can be given as gifts to children and family memberships that can be debited monthly or paid as a one-time annual fee.

The goal was to build a $100,000 reserve fund through a variety of fundraisers, including online donations. Board member Caryn Mefford said they have raised close to $75,000 so far.

But more exciting was the community’s rally to save the museum, Robertson said.

“We were really excited about the response,” Robertson said. “We had a loyal following, but very small. We’re very excited about how much support we’ve received.”

If she could wave a magic wand, Robertson said she’d want more steady funding.

“I’d love to have enough money to do programs in the building and in the community that met a variety of needs,” she said.

They already do programs and activities at local fairs like LeclaireFest, but she would like to see them bring programs into classrooms in Edwardsville schools and programs that focus on the very young or on at-risk children.

The museum also partners with the Riverbend Astronomers for the annual Starry Starry Night event. Robertson would like to see more partnerships to bring more programs to Edwardsville families.

“It’s a great place for kids from infancy to age 12, a place to explore, play, interact with their parents,” Robertson said. “The wish list would be to be able to do more.”

In the meantime, the museum celebrated its grand re-opening Saturday. While some exhibits have been unveiled over the last several months, the museum has been closed since Jan. 8 for more extensive work. Mefford said the turnout was “unbelievable,” with the highest number of paid attendance in the museum’s history — many of whom chose to purchase family memberships. Mayor Hal Patton cut the ribbon on the reopening, and Mefford said the day was full of “lots of energy and a great turnout.”