Orange County

Kidzu children’s museum in Chapel Hill wants to grow. Here’s where it might go

Jody Cassell, center, dance and movement instructor with the American Dance Festival community studio in Durham leads a group of children in a July 2013 rhythm and creative movement exercise while telling them an adventure story at a weekly event at University Place in Chapel Hill.
Jody Cassell, center, dance and movement instructor with the American Dance Festival community studio in Durham leads a group of children in a July 2013 rhythm and creative movement exercise while telling them an adventure story at a weekly event at University Place in Chapel Hill. File photo

The number of visitors to the Kidzu Children’s Museum could double in the next 10 years if a plan to triple its space in a new location goes forward.

One possibility is the 36-acre American Legion property that the town of Chapel Hill bought last year from American Legion Post 6. A task force was expected to report on the future of that land to the Town Council Monday night

The nonprofit children’s museum has been planning to expand for some time, at one point, atop Chapel Hill’s Wallace Parking Deck on East Rosemary Street. Kidzu officials then talked with the ArtsCenter in Carrboro about collaborating on a new East Main Street arts and innovation center. Neither happened.

Last year, Town Council member Jessica Anderson suggested the museum could find a permanent home at the American Legion site on Legion Road. Kidzu executive director Lisa Van Deman and Kidzu board members spoke in favor of that move at a meeting of the town’s American Legion Task Force in April.

Lisa Van Deman
Lisa Van Deman Kidzu Contributed

Kidzu now serves 90,000 people a year in 8,500 square feet of leased space at University Place, officials said. The location includes another 1,000 square feet of outdoor learning space, and Kidzu also takes outreach programs to thousands of children in the community.

Building a new home for the nonprofit organization could cost nearly $7 million, according to a report. The new museum is expected to generate up to $3.7 million in related visitor spending for Orange County’s economy and provide 35 jobs.

There’s not a site in mind yet, but the report said the new museum could open in Chapel Hill or Carrboro by 2020-21. Kidzu’s lease at University Place runs out in 2018.

“The current Kidzu is too small to sustain the museum permanently and to fully meet the needs of our community,” officials said in the report, shared with the town last week.

“A larger site will allow us to meet the substantial demand for Kidzu’s services, increase our annual attendance, serve a wider age range of children, expand our programming for families and schools, enhance our economic sustainability by providing additional revenue streams, and pioneer new models for educating children in museums,” they said.

A new museum could include roughly 33,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space, the report stated, for exhibits, programs and special events, storage and administration. Activities address four main themes: arts education; health and wellness; emerging literacy; and science, technology, engineering and math.

Special programs are offered for low- and moderate-income children and those who speak Spanish, Mandarin and Karen, a language from Burma (Myanmar).

Kidzu officials said the new museum primarily would serve children up to age 10 and their families, from Orange, Chatham, Durham, Alamance and Wake counties. The number of young children is forecast to grow by 60 percent over the next decade to more than 383,000, they said.

Older children could benefit from workshops, classes, collaboration, and mentoring and internship programs, they said.

The report noted children’s museums are the fastest-growing segment in the museum industry, with 341 members of the Association of Children’s Museums in 22 countries contributing over $440 million each year to local economies.

The report looked at nine North Carolina children’s museums, including the 91,075-square-foot Museum of Life and Science in Durham and the 106,000-square-foot Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. Both serve roughly 500,000 visitors a year.

Tammy Grubb: 919-829-8926, @TammyGrubb

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