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Children's museum plans move (w/video)

By Jessica Rodrigo
July 23, 2014 at 2:23 a.m.

Wyatt Surber, 5, climbs on the play structure at the Children's Discovery Museum of the Golden Crescent. After 12 years at the location on Main Street, the museum may be moving.

Crossroads children and families will soon have a new place to play.

Plans have been put into motion for the Children's Discovery Museum of the Golden Crescent to make a move that would cater to the growing needs of a growing community, said Melissa Dixon, the museum's executive director.

If all goes as planned, the museum will move to its new home at the former Playhouse Theatre on Sam Houston Drive.

"It will really set us apart and make us unique," Dixon said.

Sammie Sue Hendrix, a museum board member, said the new location will have a whole new look and feel about it. Plans to move into the former movie theater are still in the works, but she said the group is excited about the move.

"It's where children can come to discover and a place where children can play," she said. "We want to preserve that idea."

In 2012, the Junior League told the nonprofit group it could either buy the Kreisle Building - the museum's only home since it was opened in 2002 - or begin paying rent. The Junior League owns the building. The previous agreement between the two groups allowed the museum to operate for 10 years free of charge.

News of the Junior League's decision to sell the building and the adjacent lot sent the board searching for the perfect place to relocate that would also meet the needs of Victoria's growing population.

"We found that people valued what we were doing," Hendrix said about the survey they used to collect research from the community. "This message motivated us to begin the move."

After looking at several locations in downtown and throughout Victoria, the board chose the Playhouse Theatre as a new home to expand the museum into something larger than what it is now.

It also helped that the theater already had a strong presence in Victoria.

Patty Zapalac, board member on the education committee, said she remembers working at the Playhouse Theatre when she was younger and saving her theater paychecks to save for college.

She worked at the theater as a cashier at the matinee showings and stayed there part time after she moved on to work at the Salem Six theater.

The Playhouse was a big part of her life as she was growing up, she said.

Now that she serves on the museum board, she said bringing the theater back to the community is something she is excited to be a part of.

"I'm happy to see life brought back into something that was a part of so many families here," Zapalac said. "It was a place for kids to go for so many years, and it will be nice to see the kids walk through those doors again."

As a member of the board's education committee, she said it'll be fun to see the theater take on a similar role of children's entertainment as it focuses on encouraging children to exercise their creativity and their desire to learn. So many kids went there to watch movies, Zapalac said, and now, they can go and learn something new.

Dixon's goal since she started in 2013 has been to raise attendance and create new programs. A move into a new location would allow for a change in exhibits as well as some flexibility to cater to school visits.

The Main Street location had limited parking and access for buses, she said. Moving out of downtown Victoria is something she said the board thought long and hard about.

Moving into a larger location was also a benefit the board saw in the old theater, said Darin Kazmir, a member of the museum's board.

"We looked at several different things, and we thought the Playhouse Theatre would be very strategic, and it had a lot of opportunity," he said.

At 14,680 square feet, the Playhouse Theatre is nearly three times as large as the Kreisle Building, which has 5,512 square feet.

The new space would be used for new or returning exhibits and the addition of a shaded outdoor exhibit. The board has enlisted the help of a New York designer who is tasked with renovating the space to accommodate the museum's exhibits.

"We're still conceptualizing the space," Dixon said. "It's going to be different than what we have now."

She said the new museum will have more exhibits that focus on STEM - science, technology, engineering and mathematics - skills. Jobs in the area are looking more toward those focuses, she said, and developing an interest early can help them in the future.

To help fund the purchase and future move into the Playhouse Theatre, the Children's Discovery Museum started its capital campaign in March. The goal of the campaign is to raise $2.8 million, which will cover costs of purchasing the building, moving the museum and renovating the building for the children's exhibits.

According to a Victoria Central Appraisal District search, the 2014 appraised value for the vacant theater was $583,040.

So far, the campaign has raised $526,000 in donations and pledges.

The museum will move out of the Kreisle Building before the end of August, Dixon said.

She and the board members anticipate moving into the new location before the end of the year.

"Only good things will come out of this. It's a great opportunity for the Children's Discovery Museum," Dixon said. "The time is right."

While the children's museum is in-between locations, Dixon said, it will operate as a museum without walls. Operating with a mobile unit will allow the museum to continue its outreach to children throughout the Crossroads, she said.

"This way, we can visit schools and visit parties outside of Victoria," Dixon said.



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