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By Gwendolyne Honrud
The Courier 

Children's Museum Receives Grant To Update Exterior

 

January 29, 2020



The Children’s Museum of Northeast Montana was recently awarded a $4,500 grant from the Montana Department of Commerce to update exterior signage. The Museum was one of 25 recipients to receive a portion of the $750,000 total that was awarded across the state through the Tourism Grant Program under the Office of Tourism and Business Development.

Executive Director of the Museum Stacey Fast wrote the grant request for exterior signage on the renovated museum’s exterior. “We’ve been here since 2011 and people still come in and say ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ People from Glasgow say that,” Fast said about the need for the upgraade. “So for people from here, for people from out of town, we want some really good signage that will portray a clear message: this is a really fun place for kids.”

The logo for the Children’s Museum will be blown up and put on the outside of the building. A sign for the wildlife exhibit will also be placed on the front of the building. Fast has several plans for improving the building, which dates to the 1940s and is showing several signs of its age. “We’re also going to replace the exterior lighting, which is really old,” Fast explained. “That will help people see it in the winter when it’s dark at like 5 p.m.”

Fast admits the whole project will be quite large and cost more than provided in the grant, but she has plans to continue seeking out funding opportunities for the nonprofit. She brings experience in this area, having written grant requests for the Valley Event Center in the past.

Improvements to the downtown building are planned in three phases. First, Fast has plans to replace the windows in the front of the building. “They are single-pane windows and contract and expand in the cold and heat. One of them ends up cracking every winter,” she explained. Installing better windows will help regulate the indoor temperatures and cut down on heating and cooling costs.

The second task the museum plans to tackle is removing and replacing the awning above the front doors. David Wilkowski is working on this with the museum as a combined architect and project manager. A colorful and fun replacement awning is planned to maintain the aesthetics of the building and continue to provide some shade in the summer months. Also in the second phase are plans to rework the alcove. Fast explained, “We are looking at taking out the windows and replacing them with sponsor tiles, for sponsors who help pay for the project. Those would be here forever.”

Lastly, will come the signage and the lighting. Plans are also in the works to paint the exterior and replace the tiles at the base of the building. “It’s like The Money Pit here,” she laughed, referring to the 1986 comedy about a couple who buys a ramshackle home in need of repair. Fast estimates over the years “hundreds of thousands of dollars” have gone into renovating the old J.C. Penney building, though she is quick to point out that “fortunately, much of that has come in the form of grants.”

Fast is optimistically projecting all three phases will be completed at the end of 2021. Improving the appearance of the building, along with signage to draw people in, will be a boom to the Children’s Museum. “We do get a ton of out-of-town visitors in the summer,” Fast said, but elaborated that improvements to the building will benefit all of downtown, making it a more desirable locale. She pointed to other businesses doing improvements to their buildings and what an impact it has, attracting other businesses to the area.

Beyond the grant program, Fast, who volunteers her time at the Museum, is working on several other smaller projects inside the building. Norm Girard has been helping, sprucing up many of the exhibits that have seen years of wear and tear since their installation in 2011. A renovation of the climbing wall into “more of an American Ninja Warrior style” is planned to give kids another outlet for physical activity. Fast laughed, “The kids love it. And so do the parents!”

The upstairs portion of the museum Fast hopes to have open this summer. Displays upstairs will include STEM, farm to table, planes, trains and automobiles, and pioneer valle, all about Lewis and Clark. She also intends to have an “escape room,” filled with puzzles and clues which need to be solved in order to exit. “We want to tailor it for several programs,” Fast enthused, “from little kids up to adults for parties.”

The Children’s Museum of Northeast Montana is a 501c3 organization and is staffed by volunteers. Located at 512 2nd Ave. S., the hours of operation are based upon volunteer availability. For more info. on hours they can be contacted at 228-4386.

 

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