Minnesota lawmakers included $7 million in a capital investment bill to help make a long-sought children's museum in downtown St. Cloud a reality.
The idea for the Great River Children's Museum has been in the works since 2012. Organizers have raised about $10 million in donations. In 2018, Liberty Bank donated its former building in downtown St. Cloud for the museum space.
With $7 million in state money, organizers will be able to construct the museum, install exhibits and open its doors in late 2024, said executive director Cassie Miles.
“We knew that we needed to try to take some of the burden off of our local community and reach out to the state through our local legislators, and identify that this was indeed an important project for our community,” she said.
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The museum’s volunteer crew has been doing some outreach and programming. But having a physical space, Miles said, “gives us that central hub for play, learning and strengthening family bonds and community connections.’
Miles said the former bank is an old building, but is the right size for a museum, has “really good bones” in a good location.
“We consider this to be a really great point for both people passing through – people who are intending to use this as a destination – and of course, for our immediate families here in the St. Cloud area,” she said.
Miles said the museum will be geared toward children age 0-10 with a special focus on early childhood, but will have exhibits and activities to engage whole families.
“What we're trying to do is make sure that people understand that engineering is just trying and failing – that problem-solving is a part of the fun,” she said. “When your toddler is playing with blocks, that's STEAM. That's getting their hands on something, and trying to build and engineer.”
The museum also is looking to serve more than 60 public school districts and private schools in the region for student field trips and activities that develop skills in science, technology, arts, engineering and math, or STEAM.
“We get to provide that space for classrooms to come and get out of the desk environment for a little while, take what they've heard and what they've learned there, and use their hands and dig into play,” Miles said. “And then bring it back to the classroom and talk about it, and have it come full circle.”
The St. Cloud project was mentioned in a recent New York Times article about how children’s museums have evolved from providing rainy-day activities for young children to offering learning and support for all ages of kids and their families, including promoting mental health.
The museum also is part of St. Cloud’s plans to revitalize and create more jobs downtown.