On May 22, 2023, the Minnesota State Legislature voted to approve an all cash bonding bill which includes a $7mm award to Great River Children’s Museum for the construction phase of the project. The funding will allow the museum to begin construction and set a target grand opening date of late-2024.
“We couldn’t be more excited and grateful for this additional funding. We’ve been working hard to raise the funds we need to build an incredible children’s museum. Even amidst rising costs and inflation, local families and organizations have stepped up to make their support known, pledging significant dollars to keep this project moving forward,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “The cash award from the State of Minnesota, combined with private donations, will allow us to get our doors open and serve the families of Central Minnesota.”
Great River Children’s Museum has been raising funds privately to develop a place where every child and their caring adults can create, explore, discover, and be inspired together in play. The museum will reside in downtown St. Cloud, and serve all of Central Minnesota. The organization has been working with three exhibit companies to finalize core museum exhibits; local architect GLT Architects; and local contractor BCI Construction, so the museum could be shovel ready now that the funding is in place.
“We are grateful to our local Representative Dan Wolgamott for authoring the funding request in the House, to Representative Bernie Perryman for her support of our House bill, and to Senator Aric Putnam for leading the charge in the Senate,” Miles said. “The generosity of our local community, in conjunction with state bond funds, allow us to work on getting the museum built. We will concentrate our fundraising efforts going forward on increasing accessibility to the museum, enriching our play-filled experiences through programming, and the long-term stability of the organization.”
GRCM fund request passed House vote; awaiting Senate vote
Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan visited the future home of Great River Children’s Museum April 7, 2023 as part of a state funding request project site tour.
Great River Children’s Museum (GRCM) has requested up to $7 million in state funding. If granted, the funding would allow the museum to begin construction – which will take approximately one year – and set a target grand opening date.
“We are so grateful for the generosity and early support of the museum from donors,” said Cassie Miles, GRCM executive director. “With a grant from the state, we can fully move forward with construction of the museum.”
“State funding does not stop our efforts,” Miles went on to explain. “We will work to raise $2 million from our community to increase accessibility to the museum, enrich play-filled experiences through programming, and build out the long-term stability of the organization. You’ll find GRCM at several community events throughout the region over the coming months.”
The funding request is a bi-partisan effort led by local legislators. Dan Wolgamott and Bernie Perryman co-authored and advocated for the funding request in the House. The House passed a capital investment bill March 6.
Senator Aric Putnam is leading the charge in the Senate. The Senate has yet to pass an investment bill.
Flanagan’s visit to GRCM is part of a tour highlighting projects and organizations that are eager for legislators to pass a bonding bill.
“What a gem this is going to be for your community. This is truly going to be a space for community connection,” Flanagan said. In reference to legislative efforts to pass a bonding bill, Flanagan stated, “We shouldn’t be putting politics ahead of opportunities for children and families.”
Once open, GRCM will be Minnesota’s second largest children’s museum, serving more than 500,000 residents in 12 counties and 64 school districts. Annual attendance is projected to be more than 125,000.
In 2022, GRCM used current capital campaign donations for interior demolition of the site, so the museum is “shovel ready” when construction funding is secured. At the same time, GRCM has been working with architects and museum exhibit designers to finalize plans and begin exhibit fabrication.
Right now, the museum’s volunteers are continuing their fundraising and are working to gather more volunteers for the next phase, with several outreach events and activities on the calendar.
About Great River Children’s Museum Great River Children’s Museum is an emerging museum that will reside in downtown St. Cloud and serve all of Central Minnesota.
GRCM’s mission is to shine a bright light on the power of play to spark children’s learning, strengthen families, and build community connections. The museum is currently in a capital campaign to develop a place where every child and their caring adults can create, explore, discover and be inspired. The museum’s Board of Directors is working with experienced museum planners, exhibit designers, and architects to transform its 25,000 square foot space into one that celebrates the rich, natural elements, resources and cultures of Central Minnesota.
GRCM is a registered 501(c)3 non-profit organization and member of the Association of Children’s Museums
By Mike Helgeson, Co-Chair Facilities Committee and Cassie Miles, Executive Director
Details make all the difference…
Over the last several years, Great River Children’s Museum has gone from an idea to nearly fully designed and prepped for construction. At over 31,000 sq ft, thousands of decisions have to be made before this museum can open and be exactly the kind of joy-filled, high quality, playful experience that Central Minnesota deserves.
In subtle or not so subtle ways, details like font selection and sink height can impact every visitor’s experience differently. While we fundraise, we’re making sure that each aspect of the museum that guests and staff might encounter is well thought out. Just ask Mike Helgeson, Co-Chair of Great River Children’s Museum’s Facilities Committee. Over the last two years, Mike and others have been paying attention to elements that may go unnoticed by some – in recent outings to the Minnesota Children’s Museum in St. Paul, Mike and is wife Karel get to see how furniture and fixtures outside of the exhibit spaces make a meaningful difference in the way their granddaughter is able to enjoy her visit.
“Karel and I have enjoyed time with our 2-1/2 year old granddaughter, Greta, at the MinnesotaChildren’s Museum. During her first visit she was hesitant and mostly liked watching otherchildren play. On later visits, she would dash off to the areas she liked and would becometotally absorbed doing those activities as she became more confident.”
“I have observed how important the design of the space is to the child’s experience,” said Mike, “For instance, having a lower railing on the stairways makes it safer and easier to use. Also, having colored cushions [on general seating] to play on makes the space fun and inviting.”
And Mike should know that simply ‘making something work’ is not the goal. He’s watched the building that was once home to his family’s chicken hatchery take on a myriad of different functions over the years. The Temporary Gallery will serve a similar purpose. Proudly sponsored by Mike’s father, Don Helgeson and his partner Sue Shepard, our Temporary Gallery will host traveling exhibits from other museums, showcase local art, and more.
“I am excited with the progress Great River Children’s Museum has made. In the future I lookforward to the same when the museum is open and we can bring our granddaughter to enjoy the space.”
During the coming year of museum demolition, design and construction, we are seeking to engage artists with connections to St. Cloud and Central Minnesota to design and build work that will be integrated into the museum. We are seeking to connect with and engage artists interested in working with the museum- as teachers, public artists and other creative partners.
As we envision a welcoming, flourishing Greater St. Cloud where all children look forward to a future that offers expanding opportunities, we center play as essential to children’s learning and increased connections to the diversities of the world around them.
Great River Children’s Museum has launched a major capital campaign to raise $13.5mm and remodel a 25,000 square foot building located 2 blocks west of the metro bus depot and immediately north of highway 23 on 7th Ave. S in downtown St. Cloud. We have engaged with professional exhibit designers (Split Rock Studios-St. Paul, MN, Haizlip Studio-Memphis, TN, and Boss Display-Columbus, OH), architects (GLT Architects-St. Cloud, MN) and construction management (BCI Construction-Sauk Rapids, MN). This team was selected based on their talents and their belief that there are opportunities at every stage of development to maximize learning, playfulness, and involve our Central Minnesota neighbors in this effort.
Our intention is to engage artists in a variety of roles as we build and develop the museum. To start, we would like all interested artists to Complete This Interest Form
The above Google Form is our preferred submission method. If you are unable to use the form or do not have a google account login, alternative submission includes submitting up to 5 work samples including a list of relevant experience and a statement of interest to email@example.com. Video submissions are also accepted. Submissions are due on or before January 22nd, 2023.
Artists with ties to Central Minnesota will receive priority consideration.
Artists who have experience working on large scale projects are encouraged to apply as well as professional artists who are new to the field of public art.
Artist interest form submissions and work samples will be reviewed by the GRCM Art Team.
A selected group of artists will be invited to develop proposals.
Three (3) artists will be chosen to produce designs for specific high-priority locations within the museum.
Remaining artists will remain under consideration for over a dozen other art needs within 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.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.
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.