By: David Mohs GRCM Facilities Committee co-chair Exhibits Committee member
On a daily basis for over two years, I have and continue to provide behind-the-scenes volunteer support to the emerging Great River Children’s Museum. My information technology background within a secondary education environment was a natural fit for the museum’s interim networking, computing, audio-visual, and security needs.
Though the pandemic has hampered in-person activities, persistent planning for the museum’s launch continues. Given that Abraham Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe,” imagine how many hours of preparation are required to convert a 25,000-square-foot, 100-room banking facility into a bustling children’s museum. Upon opening its doors, Great River Children’s Museum will open worlds of exploration, discovery and creativity in Downtown Saint Cloud.
In the meantime, while we at Great River Children’s Museum figuratively sharpen our axe, Minnesota Children’s Museum in Saint Paul has collaborated with us to bring a second small traveling exhibit to the future home of Great River Children’s Museum.
On a recent winter morning, Curious George™ swung out of a freight truck and into the museum’s preview space. Tugged behind him was a bit of countryside. He proceeded to set up an apartment within and is actively constructing a small city. Perhaps, if we have enough bananas, Curious George and his crew will restore our building to its original 16-foot ceiling height! Stay tuned to our Facebook page for pictures.
Like our first traveling exhibit, Storyland, this exhibit will be available for a limited time to limited audiences given pandemic conditions. We were able to welcome 40 small groups through Storyland. Our hope is to invite more than 100 small groups for Curious George.
Our museum team will be scheduling reservations with educational partners and childcare providers first because of their already established “pandemic bubbles.” Then, we will invite individual families to reserve time with the exhibit.
Between guests, the space will be disinfected. Our volunteers will be working hard.
By: Dr. Vincent Miles GRCM Board Member and Exhibits Committee chair
2020 was a busy year for the Great River Children’s Museum Exhibits Committee, and 2021 is kicking off with an even higher level of energy as we start to see our vision come to life.
What is an Exhibits Committee?
GRCM’s Exhibits Committee is tasked with taking initial exhibit ideas and concepts of the Board, further conceptualizing them, and readying the concepts to present to exhibit design professionals. Essentially, we’re carrying the baton from the museum master plan vision forward to the best-suited exhibit designers to execute that vision.
The Committee includes Board members and community members with various backgrounds, including early childhood education, mental health, business, higher-education, arts programming, and law (to name a few). Additional community voices include those specifically who have children currently within the target demographic age of the museum.
What has the Exhibits Committee accomplished so far?
After a lengthy process, we closed out 2020 selecting a collaborative joint-bid of three exhibit design-build companies — Split Rock Studios (St. Paul, MN), Haizlip Studio (Memphis, TN), and KidZibits (St. Paul, MN).
Here’s how we got there.
In January 2020, we focused on developing the 5 major permanent exhibits identified in the museum master plan. These exhibits include: 1) Great Big River, 2) Climber To The Clouds, 3) Big Woods Workshop, 4) Bridges To The World, and 5) Great Explorations.
Small workgroups of 4 or 5 members each were formed around each of these exhibits with the goal to discuss, further the concepts, and prepare reports in a consistent format presentable to future consultants and contractors.
Simultaneously, our committee identified 5 children’s museums and other similar organizations to visit and gain insight on exhibit experiences; however, the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with our plans as stay-at-home orders and social distancing became a priority. As a result, we were only able to visit 2 locations: the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. These targeted visits answered many questions we had about the exhibit development process.
As we settled into the new normal that the pandemic brought, we shifted interactions online and continued to hold committee and small group meetings regularly.
When our new executive director was hired in July 2020, our committee brought her up to speed on exhibit visions and insights captured.
The next step was to create a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) that could be posted online and sent out to known firms that specialize in museum exhibit development. This comprehensive RFQ document was sent to 19 firms (many of which connected to our professional organization, the Association of Children’s Museums), posted on an online database, and posted publicly on our website. The RFQ closed October 23, 2020 and ultimately yielded 12 proposals submitted by many high-quality, capable, and nationally recognized exhibit design firms, including three from Minnesota.
We developed a rubric to evaluate and score the prospective design firms. Then, members of our Exhibits Committee, Board, and Facilities Committee embarked on the monumental task of reading through all of the proposals (some 50 pages each) and scoring them. Scores were compiled and analyzed to determine the best fit for the needs of our museum.
After follow-up interviews and reference checks, we formally made our recommendation to the Board to move forward hiring the collaborative team. Contracts were drafted, reviewed by attorneys, approved by the Board in January 2021, and the contract was signed.
What are the next steps to bring exhibits to life?
Now the fun really starts to take-off. We will use the first half of 2021 to catapult our vision into a workable plan.
The design firms are set to hold a kick-off event with us in February. This will lead to initial sketches of what our exhibit designs will be. We then move into the schematic phase as they nail down how these exhibits will fit our space and our needs.
Concurrently with this process, our Exhibits Committee will shift some of our focus to additional exhibit planning needs of our museum. Most notably, we will further concept our outdoor play space, explore further STEM and technology offerings of our museum, and begin discussion on smaller minor exhibits to round out our entire exhibit experience for museum visitors.
With the continued support of our community, additional exhibit sponsorships, and ongoing volunteer engagement, we anticipate sharing these one-of-a-kind exhibit details within the year.
These images showcase other collaborative museum design builds from the firms selected to bring Great River Children’s Museum exhibits to life.
Three safes were moved out of the bank! The museum is looking less like a bank due to the “sale” of three safes. The safes were offered for free to anyone willing to move them, which was a sizeable effort. Dave Surma, a foreman with El-Jay Plumbing & Heating, had been working in the building on a gas line project for Xcel Energy when he became aware that the safes were available. He decided to take on the project of removing the safes and finding them new homes. It took two full days and a crew of workers to move the safes. They constructed a steel beam gantry spanning two rooms to lift the safes onto carts. They used an elaborate hoist system and winches to pull the safes out around the various obstacles, up a ramp and out the door where the gantry system had to be built again to lift the safes onto the back of a truck. It was quite a production to move the three heavy safes. We are very thankful to have them out and fulfilling their next purpose.
Our PEL Lab space is looking great because of eleven volunteers from the United Way Day of Caring. On Thursday, September 19, they spent the day painting the 1200 square foot room where we plan to host our PEL Labs and the restroom in that space. The volunteers also dismantled some shelving in an older vault. Volunteers came from several employers, including GeoComm, Minnwest Bank, PCI, Safelite Auto Glass and Toppan Merrill. Thanks for all the hard work!
Community members continue to step up and generously contribute to bringing the museum to life.
Coborn’s Inc. has donated a refrigerator for the museum building. This has been very helpful for the frequent meetings happening at the museum. Cool refreshments are much appreciated by our volunteers.
Creating an opening between two main floor rooms, to make it possible to offer programming for children and families, required some simple remodeling to meet city codes. It proved challenging to find a commercial contractor who could do the work during the busy construction season. Then generous bids came back from community members who were able to complete the construction project. Soon United Way volunteers will help with painting to put the final touches on these rooms.
Many little adjustments needed to be made to bring the building into compliance with fire codes and ADA. One of our volunteers pulled up and leveled the paving stones at the back of the building to bring the rear entrance into ADA compliance as pictured below.
We continue to be grateful for the involvement of community members who are willing to give of their time and energy to bring a children’s museum to the St. Cloud Area. We look forward to using the newly remodeled spaces to learn about putting together quality programming with children and families as well as gathering groups from the community to collect input.
What do you do with a former bank building while you wait for it to be transformed into a children’s museum? Make a documentary about a bankrobber, of course! The building was recently used by a crew of filmmakers to reenact the crimes of the Fishing Hat Bandit. According to the creators of the film:
“The Fishing Hat Bandit (working title) is a feature length documentary about the bank robbery spree of John Whitrock, also known as the Fishing Hat Bandit. Whitrock robbed 23 banks over the course of 18 months before being apprehended in Edina in January 2005. The film will include interviews with Whitrock, several of the bank tellers he victimized, the bank manager who helped catch the bandit, the two FBI lead investigators and others.”
“This film will not just focus on the Fishing Hat Bandit’s crimes, but also on the experiences of the bank tellers he victimized. Often, crime stories sensationalize the crime narrative with little regard for the victims. This film will tell a balanced story that illustrates the resilience of the many bank employees affected and includes a strong restorative justice theme.”
The timing of the project was perfect! The teller stations were still intact and hadn’t been used for museum purposes yet. The board happily agreed to share space with this creative project. It will be fun to see the final product!
The Great River Children’s Museum Board and Facilities Committee was invited to tour the Science Museum of Minnesota on March 6th. They were able to go behind the scenes to learn about exhibit design and fabrication. The group was impressed by the size and scope of the work done by the 27 person staff who build exhibits for museums around the world. Each exhibit is custom designed and built for a particular museum with their unique community in mind. There are infinite possibilities for what could be done. The tour sparked the imagination of all who attended. The biggest takeaway for Buddy King was that it takes between six months and two years to bring an idea from development to display in the museum. This gave everyone a sense of the timeline for planning the remodel and exhibit spaces. The group left feeling very excited about the future of the Great River Children’s Museum.
The first installment of our video tour of the building is on YouTube. Monica Segura-Schwartz and Glen Palm walk through the banking section of the building, give a little history, and share their dreams for the future. Our building is really three separate buildings, so it takes quite a while to tour the whole thing. We look forward showing you a little more in future segments and introducing you to more of the board members. Stay tuned!
The Great River Children’s Museum Board of Directors has had an extremely busy month. From board development to moving day, it has been several weeks of milestone events. You can learn more about our board members here.
Nov. 17 – The board attended a retreat facilitated by Linda Holliday and Kathy Gaalswyk of Impact Minnesota. During the retreat they were able to learn about board member roles, review bylaws, define their mission and values, and form committees. The committees are working groups including community engagement, fund development, finance, facilities and personnel. There will be a follow-up retreat coming early next year.
Nov. 28 – Mark Bragelman, Robin Gohman and other representatives from Liberty Bank brought our group on a tour of the Great River Children’s Museum’s soon-to-be home. Museum planners Jeanne Vergeront and Jim Roe met with the board and planning group to share their ideas about how the building could be used to bring community members inside to join in the museum planning process and play together. It was exciting to dream about using this new space.
Dec. 4 – Closing day! Board members Glen Palm, Greg Reigstad and Becky Coborn were present for the signing of the documents and the handing over of the codes and keys.
Since that day, it has been fun exploring the building, discovering which key fits in which lock and which code opens which door. There has also been the work of moving in, with furniture that was donated by Coborn’s, Inc. Thanks to a Thrivent Action Team, we were able to purchase paper products and other supplies needed to host our volunteer board and committees for work in our new space. After a tour with the fire marshall, the facilities committee has a list of initial work that needs to take place in the building in order to safely host family friendly events.
Dec. 10 – The Great River Children’s Museum Board of Directors held its first meeting in the new location. The results of the board retreat were voted on and made official. The board has grown over the past six months from three voting members to fourteen. Solidifying the foundational documents and board structure has been a major focus of the board’s most recent time together.
Come play with us in front of our future home at Liberty Bank downtown during the October 19th Art Crawl from 5:00 – 6:30pm. There will be sidewalk activities for the kids while grown-ups can chat with members of the board. 111 7th Ave S, St Cloud, MN 56302