The Wonderscope Children’s Museum, which already attracts about 80,000 visitors annually, hopes to mark its 30th year by expanding into a new and more inviting building.
The plan is about a year behind schedule, but momentum is building and officials plan to break ground in March on a new location at the corner of Red Bridge Road and Oak Street in south Kansas City.
A huge assist toward reaching that goal came recently with a $4 million matching grant from the Regnier Family Foundation, which already had committed $2 million to the $15 million project goal (up from the $12 million goal it announced last year).
The Sunderland Foundation gave $1.25 million and the J.E. and L.E Mabee Foundation made a $250,000 challenge grant. The new site, valued at about $1 million, was also a private gift to Wonderscope from Owen Buckley and family.
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Officials now are appealing to the public to close the funding gap. A large sign on the new site invites kids and their families to “learn, play and grow” when the new facility opens.
“We’re at the point where we want Kansas City to know that this premiere attraction is a reality and that it’s a great opportunity to participate and be part of it,” said Wonderscope marketing and communications director Tracey Mershon.
At 30,000 square feet, the new building will allow Wonderscope to stretch out after years of making do in a cramped, former elementary school at 5700 King St. in Shawnee.
The Wonderscope mission is to encourage children ages 8 and younger to learn about science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) and have fun doing it. It emphasizes hands-on activities.
It is a museum in a loose sense. Its exhibits include opportunities for children to do arts and crafts and to role play as farmers or as health providers for people or pets. Other programs focus on music and motor skills.
The new facility will have room for “leading edge exhibits housed in interactive spaces with a more fluid floor plan,” according to a Wonderscope release. “An outdoor exhibit space will also be included, expanding the diversity of experiences for visitors.”
Wonderscope already works with school districts across the region, but officials hope to build stronger relationships with the Kansas City, Hickman Mills and Center school districts.
Children visiting Wonderscope need to be accompanied by an adult. General admission to Wonderscope is currently $8. But this year it joined a national initiative called Museums for All, which offers steep discounts for lower-income families.
The Red Bridge location, near interstate highways and on a bus line, will be more visible and more accessible. The current location is not on a bus line.
The Regnier Family Foundation’s generosity toward Wonderscope grows from a historical connection.
Vic Regnier purchased the former Flint Elementary School building in Shawnee for the children’s museum. His son, Bank of Blue Valley president Bob Regnier, is chairman of the Wonderscope capital campaign committee.
Wonderscope is a nonprofit organization. Contributors to the capital campaign will be listed on a donors’ wall at the new building. People may give online at www.wonderscope.org
An earlier plan for a new Wonderscope envisioned a partnership and a physical connection with a new Red Bridge Branch of the Mid-Continent Public Library, which is eager to move out of its current space. But the library now plans to renovate and occupy an existing building at the Red Bridge Shopping Center that formerly housed a bowling alley.
That building still will be close to the new Wonderscope, allowing the two resources to complement each other.
“We’re not going to be very far from Wondefrscope so we’re excited that we’re still going to be neighbors,” said library spokeswoman Emily Brown.
Mid-Continent hopes to occupy its new space in 2019. The current branch will remain open until the move.
The new branch will have a community room, “collaboration rooms,” a children’s area, new furniture, new public computers and an outdoor seating area, according to the library district.