The future of Truckee children’s museum
In the early 1990s, several Truckee parents saw a need for a new community facility where families with young children could come to play and learn together.
In 1992 the dream shared by Susan Ray and Judy Thomas gave life to the Sierra Nevada Children’s Museum, a small space tucked between a convenience store and a restaurant in a Truckee retail center, where volunteers offered music and language classes, computer lessons and other hands-on learning projects for young children.
In the late 1990s The Community Collaborative of Tahoe-Truckee conducted a study showing that local kindergarten-aged children were trailing their peers elsewhere in their gross motor skills, said Phebe Bell of the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation’s Phebe Bell. The study concluded that the kids were living in relatively cramped homes with few physical outlets.
“For parents it is isolating experience to be stuck inside,” Bell said.
It was then that the museum’s supporters decided on a relatively fast fix, over an 18-month period purchasing the large white tent that in 2001 would become the new home of the KidZone museum.
They added a large indoor play structure and spaces for infants to crawl over soft vinyl cushions. The Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District leases the museum location from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, and then charges the KidZone museum a nominal annual rent of $1, according to KidZone Director Carol Meagher.
“We are the only indoor play facility [in the area], and the only one where parents can play with their children,” Meagher said.
Although no new study has been conducted, Meagher said she is confident the KidZone is addressing the needs of children to develop their gross- and fine-motor skills as well as their cognitive and social abilities. The KidZone Museum serves 17,000 visitors a year, Meagher added.
Families can buy either a day pass or join as members. All fees subsidize the museum’s programs.
The KidZone takes in $30,000 to $40,000 in membership fees each year, while spending $30,000 per month to maintain facilities, pay staff and keep the lights on, according to Meagher. The museum makes up the deficit through grants and donations. Without the community assistance, Meagher said KidZone would be unable to afford the museum’s exhibits and programs.
For instance, a new hands-on space exhibit had a retail price tag of $30,000. KidZone paid for about $10,000, but the rest was donated or loaned.
The Contractors Association of Truckee Tahoe installed electronics and donated other materials for the Space Zone, while the exhibit’s rocket ship and an interactive mission control display was loaned at no charge by another children’s museum, Habitot in Berkeley.
The space exhibit includes a magnetic wall and chalkboard hand-crafted by Mountain Forge. A fresh coat of paint was donated by Easterbrook Painting donated a fresh coat of paint and Real Graphic Source provided a huge globe to complete the exhibit. An anonymous donor furnished the museum $2,000 worth of costumes, Meagher said.
Six years operating in what amounts to a tent has some supporters wondering when Sierra Nevada Children’s Museum can find a permanent structure for the KidZone. The museum’s board has been searching for a permanent location for the better part of a decade, Bell said. During that time, the KidZone staff has expanded the museum’s exhibits while also fundraising.
The existing KidZone site is by its nature temporary. The school district could give the museum a year to vacate the land at any time it chooses, Meagher said.
KidZone has now joined the Arts and Culture Council of Truckee-Tahoe in a search for a permanent home.
Meagher said officials with the North Lake Tahoe Resort association have promised $50,000 in seed money for a new museum. The children’s museum has also applied to the Queen of Hearts philanthropic organization for a $20,000 grant.
“We are working together to have the KidZone be a part of a center of arts and culture,” Meagher said.
The supporters’ new dream is for a permanent structure that could house dance studios, a theater, rehearsal space for musicians and, of course, an expanded KidZone Museum.
Meagher said the Arts and Culture Council of Truckee-Tahoe must still conduct a feasibility study to find the best location for the proposed arts center. No timeline has been established yet.
Museum board member Jennifer Standteiner, the mother of two small children, said the KidZone definitely runs into space limitations. Many times, the museum has to remove exhibits rather than add them to its permanent displays. Meagher said the tent only holds 60 people.
“We often have to turn people away in the winter,” she said.