Making room for the museum

The downtown St. Cloud building that is the future home of the Great River Children’s Museum has undergone dramatic changes over the past 4 months. Salvagers and volunteers  have carefully removed thousands of pounds of materials for reuse and recycling in preparation for a demolition team to begin the transformation of the building in order to construct the museum.

The deconstruction process was coordinated by David Mohs, the lead facilities volunteer. He describes the process he created that led to 25 tons of materials and fixtures being removed from the building for reuse or recycling.

First, an online database of building fixtures including photographs was created. This inventory was then shared with GRCM representatives, who claimed items for GRCM’s preservation and for personal use. Technicians and volunteers who toured or had worked in the buildings were also invited to claim items. Nonprofit organizations and government agencies were invited to review the inventory through an announcement via the Saint Cloud Area Human Services Council. Select items were marketed on Freecycle and the Minnesota Materials Exchange. Eventually, people who participated in the salvage project were encouraged to invite others. Word of mouth was the most successful method of finding salvagers.

All materials were available for free, with a few exceptions. For example,  salvagers could not take copper and other valuable metals unless they paid more than the recycling value. Salvagers provided their own labor and tools to reclaim the desired materials. Each was required to sign a liability waiver covering injury, damage, and regulatory responsibility. The serious salvagers typically fell into one or more of these categories: (a) persons employed in facilities management, (b) nonprofits/governments with a dedicated facilities staff, or (c) people with farming backgrounds.

Over 50 individuals and groups participated in this process. Some examples of salvaged materials and salvagers who participated included.  A school that claimed 800 pounds of shelving and building materials for theatrical sets. A government entity claimed 1400 pounds of cabinets and counters used by their guests. A non-profit that serves persons with disabilities claimed over 1,700 pounds of materials to be used for various improvements. A farm family claimed 3,000 pounds of lumber and ceiling tiles to remodel a barn.

In addition to the materials that were salvaged for reuse, there were also materials that were dismantled and collected for recycling by 10-15 GRCM volunteers.  These materials were taken to the local recycling business and brought in $4-5,000 to the organization.

There were a variety of materials that were salvaged or recycled including: wood products, glass, metal, stone and other.  The graph below shows categories of materials by weight.

This deconstruction process had multiple benefits for GRCM, the community and our collective environment.  The museum benefited by reducing the costs of demolition through saving time and effort on the part of the demolition crew who could do their work more efficiently and with less having to be taken away.  In addition, recycling metals that provided some additional income. The benefits to the community were that individuals, non-profits, schools and churches were able to find fixtures and materials that they could use by reclaiming them with their labor.  There were over 25 tons of materials removed from the building that did not end up in a landfill that benefits us all.

A big thanks to 50+ salvagers and volunteers who participated in the deconstruction process that has supported GRCM to move to focusing on the construction of a children’s museum.  A special thanks to David Mohs who led this deconstruction project from building a database of materials to contacting salvagers and spending countless hours preparing the building, coordinating volunteers, and assisting salvagers.

Painting a partnership with herARTS in Action

By Sarah Drake, CEO & Teaching Artist of herARTS in Action

When I (herARTS in Action) was presented with the opportunity to create artwork for Great River Children’s Museum, I knew I needed to invite the children I work with at my artist residencies to help. The space is transforming for the kids, and their families, to use while learning and having fun, so they needed a voice. 

In the summer of 2021, I was able to tie this to my work with the United Way of Central Minnesota and 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21CCLC). I also happened to have some students in paid mentorship with me as well. They got hands-on experience in not only the creative but also the business side of how projects work.

Sarah Drake adds finishing touches to the window murals

Students aged 1-20 and with heritage indigenous to this land, Africa, Asia, central and north Americas, and Europe, and with various religious backgrounds and abilities worked on the project. The common theme that emerged from them all: The Mississippi River and activities to do in, on, and around it. 

Hanging in the windows, you can see the river as it starts in the spring at the headwaters, meanders down through St. Cloud in the summer and fall, and ends up in the Twin Cities in the winter. The seven clans of the Anishinaabe/Ojibwe are represented in the animals. 

You may have read this far and recently drove by GRCM and are thinking to yourself, I didn’t see any artwork in the museum’s north windows on 7th Avenue. You’re right! To keep them safe, they were temporarily taken down during demolition. They will be back up soon though. AND with some new additions!

Thanks to my classes through United Way, we have another group of students working on artwork for the windows in the south building. As spring flowers start to peek through the snow, the artwork will be popping up in the GRCM windows again!

Thank you to all of the funders who made this possible, the organization sites, but even more so to the kids who shared their brilliant ideas and talents!

The project for Great River Children’s Museum was possible because of funding from the Morgan Family Foundation and United Way 21CCLC. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.

Visit www.herartsinaction.org for more information about the organization and for a copy of Sarah’s first published book “Nanou’s Promise: A Journey Beyond Hauling Water.” She wrote and created the collage art for the book, which is inspired by her volunteerism in Burkina Faso for access to clean water, sanitation, and education.

From poultry to play, family connection continues within our walls

Don Helgeson and Sue Shepard have announced a leadership gift to Great River Children’s Museum for sponsorship of the Temporary Gallery. A space for traveling exhibits, expanded programming, and innumerable projects and works of art from around Central Minnesota to be shared! 

The Gallery is an important feature of the future children’s museum. It is especially important to Don and Sue because, like the building that Great River Children’s Museum resides in, it will always be changing and evolving into something different. Our building in downtown St. Cloud has been everything from a chicken hatchery to an athletic center. The one constant has been the Helgeson family’s connection to this space. 

The building began as Jack Frost Hatchery and Liberty Loan and Thrift founded in 1934 by Don’s father, Elmer “Mike” Helgeson. Mike wanted to help the farmers in the area by creating finance solutions. This would allow farmers to purchase chicks on installment payment plans. At the time it was a revolutionary way of doing business and proved to be very successful. By 1939, Liberty Loan and Thrift expanded to begin financing cars and farm machinery.

Circa 1941

Before his graduation in 1950 from what was then known as St. Cloud State Teachers College, Don decided that he would like to take over his father’s hatchery. He switched his focus and completed courses relating to farming and animals, specifically poultry. 

Don became a manager at the hatchery and was given opportunities to make important decisions. It was upon his suggestion that his father bought a farm near Mille Lacs Lake to start breeding chickens, feeding their own supply line. By the 1970’s, Don and his brother Jerry were partners and co-owners of the hatchery and loan business and their hard work saw the business evolve and the facility become a space used for a multitude of purposes.

In 1993 Don’s son, Michael (“Mike”) Helgeson, became CEO of the family business. In 2018 Liberty Bank moved to a new location and donated their downtown headquarters to the Great River Children’s Museum project for the benefit of the entire Central Minnesota community. Mike and his wife Karel Helgeson have served, and do serve, on the Board and Committees of Great River Children’s Museum and so it goes that the building remains a part of the wonderful Helgeson family legacy. 

“The Liberty building represents our family’s legacy and passions intersecting: the chicken business, banking business, appreciation and support for the arts, and giving back to the community.” -Don Helgeson in his book Gratitude.

We are incredibly grateful and excited that Don and Sue have chosen to play such an instrumental role in the transformation of our beautiful 111 7th Ave S. structure!

Museum exhibit design taking shape

You’re invited to sponsor an exhibit

By Heidi L. Everett, PhD GRCM board member and marketing committee chair

What began as a chicken hatchery, eventually morphed into an athletic club, and turned into a bank ultimately will transform into Great River Children’s Museum. Recent initial design schematics hinted at the shape of things to come.

On July 20, 2021, our exhibit designers shared their vision with museum board members and volunteers as well as our construction partner BCI

Split Rock Studios and Haizlip Studios both have decades experience designing children’s museums, and they spent hours this spring walking the halls of the 25,000-square-foot building generously donated by Liberty Bank in downtown St. Cloud. Team members lifted ceiling tiles, peeked under flooring, marveled at the racquet-ball-court-turned conference room, navigated awkward floor transitions between building additions and utility spaces trying to envision what the future museum visitor experience could be.

As designer Reb Haizlip put it, “It was a strange path – awkward and inefficient.”

So the exhibit design team spent a few months reimagining every inch of the space from top to bottom, side to side, inside and out to reconfigure it and to propose an “amazing communal space where everybody is dialed in. The heart of the museum,” Reb said.

The initial design schematics celebrated the diversity and richness of experiences in Central Minnesota, from the ever-changing marketplace with its unique foods, textiles and spices to the many meandering ways in which kiddos can engage, explore and understand water as a recreational platform, habitat, energy source, sacred element and essential piece of commerce.

Climber to the Clouds – an exhibit proudly sponsored by the Coborn Family Foundation – will be the centerpiece of the museum. This multi-story, interactive climbing structure is forecasted to create a flurry of physical and intellectual activities for thrill seekers, storm chasers, and weather enthusiasts alike with its awe-inspiring heights, colors and sound. 

The engineering zone will provide ample space for little ones and their caregivers to harness the wind, shed some light on solar power circuits, build bridges and work with water as an energy source.

Another exhibit will showcase a magical experience of 24-hours in Minnesota and include trees, a tree house, rope bridge, and campsite. This space will play with light and sound transitions between night and day including bird song, loons calling, wind blowing through trees, the crackle of a campfire, and northern lights. The large tent will be ideal for reading books by day and telling stories with shadow puppets as night falls in the exhibit. Stepping stones will invite kiddos to cross the headwaters of the Mississippi, and a canoe will inspire new adventures downstream.

These are just descriptions of the many delightful details soon to follow. In September, we hope to have detailed exhibit designs to share for our core exhibits once the team makes revisions.

In other exciting news, next month Great River Children’s Museum will be announcing our second $1 million exhibit sponsor and details of that exhibit. 

If you’d like to join the Coborn Family Foundation and other exhibit sponsors, please contact our Executive Director Cassie Miles at 320-200-4110 extension 101 or cassie.miles@greatrivercm.org to learn which exhibits are still available.

If your organization is interested in becoming a corporate sponsor of Great River Children’s Museum in a different capacity, please connect with Cassie as well to discuss options.
Finally, to learn more about the process of exhibit design up until now, read our blog Ready, Set … Exhibits.

Monkey business underway at GRCM

David Mohs
David Mohs

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.

Further details will be announced on our website, via our Facebook page and through our e-newsletter. You can sign up to receive the e-newsletter here.

Rest assured, Curious George’s presence in Saint Cloud will not interfere with his television stardom on tpt and other PBS Kids affiliates.

Curious George
Curious George and related characters, created by Margret and H. A. Rey, are copyrighted and trademarked by Houghton Mifflin Company and used under license. Licensed by Universal Studios Licensing LLP. All rights reserved.

READY, SET… EXHIBITS

Dr. Vincent Miles
Dr. Vincent Miles

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 Down…

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.

Safe Removal

United Way Day of Caring

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 Contributions

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.

Sidewalk before
Before
Sidewalk After
After

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.

Making a Documentary

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!