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Higher demand equals more than $30 million ask for Minnesota’s children’s museums

Visitors to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota can operate a crane, experience Dakota textile art, or explore a butterfly garden.

Shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, attendance to the museum, located in Mankato, has more than recovered, with a record-setting day earlier in March. “Families want more of what only children’s museums can provide,” said Louise Dickmeyer, the museum’s chief executive officer.

A $10 million facility expansion is one of 10 projects in the $33.8 million capital investment request from the Greater Minnesota Children’s Museum Coalition included in HF2185. Plans run from new restrooms to outdoor exhibits.

Sponsored by Rep. Jeff Brand (DFL-St. Peter), the bill was heard by the House Capital Investment Committee Wednesday on an informational basis.

Supporters say its impact would extend well beyond specific buildings.

“Fully funding these projects would represent a critical investment in 10 regional museums that will help ensure every corner of our state has the amenities needed to support early childhood development and promote regional livability and economic development,” wrote Andy Wilke, director of business development and public affairs for Greater Mankato Growth.

The projects would update underutilized downtown buildings, offer year-round early learning opportunities, enhance STEM education and could be key to attracting employees, said Dickmeyer. Coalition members anticipate serving more than double the current 500,000 visitors when the projects are completed.

Other bill requests are:

  • $7 million for the Great River Children’s Museum in St. Cloud to renovate a 100-year-old, 25,000-square-foot facility into a children’s museum;
  • $4.7 million toward acquisition and development of a 9 acre campus for the WonderTrek Children’s Museum in Baxter, including nature play exhibits and outdoor recreation areas;
  • $3 million to the Otter Cove Children’s Museum in Fergus Falls to buy its currently leased building and expand the usable space;
  • $2.5 million to the Village Children’s Museum in Willmar for purchase and renovations to a 19,000-square-foot building;
  • $2.5 million for renovations to a donated building for the Children’s Discovery Center in Breckenridge;
  • $1.3 million to the Judy Garland-Children’s Discovery Museum in Grand Rapids to purchase land to develop a theater, outdoor playground and seating area;
  • $1.3 million to expand the Duluth Children’s Museum;
  • $1.2 million to equip new science, technology, engineering and math exhibits at The Works in Bloomington; and
  • $300,000 to upgrade restrooms and add hands-on science, technology, reading/writing, engineering arts and math exhibits at Wheel and Cog in Hutchinson.

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