On June 24, Maine will get a new children’s museum, at least sort of.
That’s the day The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine will open its doors to the public at the museum’s new location at Thompson’s Point in Portland.
The yearslong effort to fundraise, find a site for and relocate the museum from downtown Portland was driven by a desire from museum leadership and members for more space, fresh exhibits, proximity to transportation and close parking.
“We looked at 17 sites in the area,” said Barbee Gilman, a museum capital campaign co-chair. “We knew we wanted room for expansion, adequate parking, food for our visitors.”
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When it opens later next month, the museum’s new home will feature a water and ball exhibit that teaches problem solving; an aquarium that shows how ecosystems change from freshwater to saltwater; exhibits that incorporate light, sound and video; a new theatre space; a climbing wall; and a large outdoor play space.
In addition to offering many new exhibits, each one was specifically reworked after the initial plans were created to make sure that people with disabilities can do as much as possible in the museum.
“After the original designs were done, we went to an [Americans With Disabilities Act] expert to review our designs,” said Julie Butcher Pezzino, the museum’s executive director, adding that, “he marked it up and we ended going back and changing our exhibits.”
Butcher Pezzino also explained that, to start, the museum’s schedule will be reduced and require timed entry reservations that can be made on the museum website.
Because the pandemic has not ended, the new facility will operate at about 40% capacity, selling 600 to 750 individual tickets for 2-and-a-half-hour time blocks offered each of the three days a week it’s open.
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“We’re being very cautious with all of our programming because we’ll have a lot of children visiting us who will not yet be vaccinated,” said Butcher Pezzino. “We’re trying to keep things as clean and separated as possible.”
To that end, masks will be required in the museum for everyone ages five and older and recommended for kids ages two to four.
Initially, the new touch tank will likely operate with staff holding the animals up close to children for them to look at rather than having kids actually touch the animals themselves.
But even with the modifications, museum staff say they’re excited that, after having to close their former location early and cease operations for 15 months, which caused a slight hit to operating budgets, there is a bigger, better, newer facility to welcome people back to.
“In certain ways it was a blessing in disguise, because we could put all of our focus on this new facility and put all our energy and effort into making this the best it could be,” said Butcher Pezzino.