Prince George’s County and National Children’s Museum officials celebrated Tuesday the commencement of construction of the museum’s transitional space at National Harbor, along with renewed hopes that the originally planned 150,000-square-foot facility will eventually move forward.
The transitional space — a facility being constructed until a larger museum can be built — was decided upon because museum officials said they were not able to secure enough funding for the larger $182 million facility due to the tough economy, but they said donations have ramped up recently and revenues from the transitional space will push them further toward their ultimate goal.
Museum CEO Kathy Dwyer Southern said the transitional facility will consist of a 15,000-square-foot indoor section, set to open this winter, along with a 60,000-square-foot outdoor play area across the street, set to open in May. The indoor exhibits will focus on tactile learning and coordination for children three years old and younger, along with “Our World,” an exhibit focusing on learning about various global cultures; the outdoor experience will teach children about health and fitness, Southern said.
Southern said that despite the fundraising setbacks of recent years, she was determined to open the museum in some form until the total for the new building could be raised.
“We already serve 300,000 people annually, at the [retail space] launch zone in National Harbor, and other programs in the county,” Southern said of the space currently being used to house the museum. “The demand is there, so we need an interim step, and this is a great way to do it.”
The outdoor experience will be on the site of the future 150,000-square-foot facility, officials said, and when it is eventually built, they will vacate the indoor transitional space.
Willard Whitson, the museum’s vice president for exhibits and programs, said since announcing the interim space, fundraising has picked up, although he said he could not go into details about the amount.
“We’re doing quite well,” Whitson said. “We’re still in the ‘quiet phase,’ meaning that until certain milestones are met, we can’t talk about it. But we’re on that threshold now.”
But Prince George’s County Councilman Obie Patterson (D-Dist. 8) of Fort Washington, whose district includes National Harbor, said that while he’s anxious to see the project move forward, he wants to see a revised plan from the museum before committing any more county funds to the project. Prince George’s County has already provided the museum with $2 million in funding, and Southern said the state of Maryland is providing $3 million in 2017.
“We have to make sure everything is in order before we continue to grant them resources and support other projects,” Patterson said. “At this point, I understand that given the reduction in scope of the program, National Children’s Museum officials will be coming back with a revised plan, so we’ll take a look at that and see how to move forward.”
County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) said that despite the temporary reduction in scope of the project, the museum will still be a welcome addition to National Harbor.
“Like everything else, they got caught up in the economy, so you have to scale it down,” Baker said at the ceremony. “What’s important is the quality of what is available for our children and parents.”