Knock Knock Children’s Museum board hopeful for 2014 construction
Children’s museum who?
Not who. When? When will the museum open?
It’s been a decade since the formation of a nonprofit board of directors tasked with raising money for a children’s museum in Baton Rouge.
The proposed Knock Knock Children’s Museum, slated to be built on Dalrymple Drive near Interstate 10 at BREC’s City-Brooks Community Park, should break ground in the summer 2014, said Kelli Harton, chairwoman of the museum’s board of directors.
“We are in the home stretch. We have accomplished a lot in the last two to three years. We are committed to doing it right and making sure it will be sustainable,” Harton said.
So far, the volunteer nonprofit group has raised more than $6 million for the museum while the board continues to talk to donors and partners about creating and funding the 18 to 20 exhibits, called learning zones, proposed for the museum, Harton said.
Asked about the 10 years of planning and fundraising, Harton said it takes time to create a first-class children’s museum.
“It’s a volunteer-driven organization. We want to do it right so it will be a real asset to the community,” Harton said.
The project gathered steam in 2010 after the group signed a cooperative endeavor agreement with BREC to secure the museum’s location. The East Baton Rouge Parish Recreation and Park Commission also donated $3 million in dividend revenue from a stock portfolio donated by Alice and Warren Farr.
“There are always things that happen with any construction project,” said BREC Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack. “You always want things to go faster.”
The average planning time for starting a children’s museum is five years, according to the Association of Children’s Museums.
Jessica Hubbard, communications manager for the association, said there is nothing out of the ordinary with Knock Knock’s 10-year fundraising span.
“You have a quite a range of time frames for children’s museums, and all are a little different. Much of it depends on fundraising. Seven to 10 years is not unusual,” she said.
Hubbard also said factors such as the occurrence of natural disasters and the status of the economy will impact the timetable for launching a children’s museum.
Another large donor to the Knock Knock Children’s Museum is the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, which gave the museum group $1.5 million in December.
Lori Bertman, executive director of the Pennington Foundation, said the volunteers who have been working to create the museum have worked hard and done their due diligence.
“If there was a full-time, paid staff doing this, I would be concerned with 10 years. But not here. Startups are hard. They (the volunteers) have stayed on it and we are very proud of what they have accomplished,” Bertman said.
Jack said the projected cost for building the 30,000-square foot museum is approximately $5.5 million while the cost of the exhibits could be from $4 million to $4.5 million.
Two architectural firms, Cambridge Seven Associates of Massachusetts and the Baton Rouge firm Remson-Haley-Herpin Architects, are working on the building plans, which should be ready for bidding in March, Jack said. The firms had previously created a design of the museum to show to donors and the community.
Harton said the group is now working to garner some funding through the federal New Market Tax Credit Program.
The program is designed to spur private investment into distressed communities by providing a tax credit to corporate or individual taxpayers who invest in certain community development entities. The entities, in turn, invest the capital in projects and businesses in low-income communities. Under the program, the museum would be one of those projects.
Mark Goodson, chief operating officer of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, said his group is working with the museum board to obtain the tax credit funding for the museum.
The museum location, west of Dalrymple Drive, is considered part of the Old South Baton Rouge community, designated by the U.S. Census as a low-income area.
“We think the museum strengthens our application for the tax credits. It’s a strong project,” Goodson said.
The applications, Goodson said, are due Sept. 16. Harton said she hopes the group will hear early next year about the possible funding from the tax credit program.
Harton said she knows the wait has been long for the museum but “it will be worth the wait.”
For more information about the museum, call (225) 388-3090 or visit www.KnockKnockMuseum.org.