"It may be inconvenient for visitors for a while but the end product will be worth it," said Dean and Director Shelley McKamey. A new interactive Children's Discovery Center themed around a visit to Yellowstone National Park for children from birth to 8 years of age will open next summer.
Dick Anderson Construction of Helena was awarded the construction bid. The new children's discovery center, which will be three times larger, will move into the current Loft Gallery after it is remodeled. The current discovery room will be converted into family-friendly restrooms.
"The Yellowstone 'animals' made of recycled materials that the kids love will have a new home," McKamey said. The new center will feature geysers, a campground, a lake and fishing bridge, lodge, fire look-out tower, play area for older children, and a separate area for babies and toddlers. Educational activities for different age groups are planned for each area.
Despite closure of the current children's discovery room, activities for kids will continue at the museum. Some elements from the old room have been moved to the downstairs lobby and each month a new play area will open in the exhibit halls. "This month kids can play "dinosaur dentist" near the Fossil Bank and in October it will be homesteading in the History Hall," McKamey said.
The first step in the construction project is to renovate the Loft Gallery, enclose the open space in the floor, and install the bathrooms. The next stage is to update the front lobby with new flooring, ceiling, lighting and a front desk. The remodeled lobby is expected to open by January. The final stage will be installation of the new Yellowstone children's center in the remodeled gallery.
"Expanding the children's discovery room grew from a community need and lots of community input," explained Board President Joanne Pieper. Families and grand-families are the largest segment of museum membership and participation in programs for babies and toddlers has steadily grown.
The Children's Discovery Center is the last of the projects funded through the museum's capital campaign which ended last December. The three-phase 11,000 square foot Siebel Dinosaur Complex was completed in 2007. "Without community support, none of these projects would have been possible," Pieper said. "We deeply appreciate people's generosity."