Children’s Museum launches fundraising campaign for new building

The Children’s Museum of Montana has launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $3.5 million to purchase, renovate and relocate to a new building.

Morgan Mitchell, the museum’s executive director, said the museum staff and board started researching available buildings in the Great Falls area that would suit their needs.

Mitchell said there are about 14 buildings that meet that criteria and the average cost of those buildings was $1,544,143.

Mitchell said they’re kicking off their online fundraising campaign now with fliers and social media and will start hosting fundraising events in the fall, starting with a spaghetti dinner in September. The flier states that they need to raise the funds within the next five years.

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“We just want to make sure we’re a permanent staple in this community,” Mitchell said.

The $3.5 million goal will allow for the purchase, renovation and moving expenses, Mitchell said.

“Moving exhibits is going to be quite expensive,” she said.

The museum is currently housed in a city-owned building across the parking lot from the Civic Center.

The museum has been in the 18,000 square foot space at 22 Railroad Square for 20 years and the lease is $1 per year.

The lease is up in November but includes provisions for a renewal of “no less than five years at a lease rate to be negotiated.”

Mitchell said the basement is used for storage, but the museum has otherwise “crawled into every nook and cranny of available space.”

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City officials have been discussing the need for more office space for several years and are currently working with an architect to come up with designs for turning the Missouri Room into office. There’s also been past discussion of moving staff offices into the Gibson Room, which was not supported by the commission. The Great Falls Municipal Court has continued to express the need for more space to add an additional judge and courtroom to handle the increased case load and provide better safety measures for employees and the public. Legal, Human Resources, and Planning and Community Development departments have employees scattered around in available office space throughout the Civic Center, according to Doyon.

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City Manager Greg Doyon has said on multiple occasions in public meetings that he will recommend the city renew the lease for another five years, but the rate has yet to be negotiated and once that five years is up, he has indicated the city will strongly consider using that building for office space.

Upon rate renewal, Doyon said he will recommend that the Children’s Museum begin looking for space at another location.

There has been some discussion of the museum purchasing the current building from the city, which would require appraisals, sale at fair market value, public hearings and a City Commission vote.

Doyon has also said that purchasing or leasing an additional building for city office’s wouldn’t be financially possible since the city has a number of other major capital needs, including a looming project to fix the Civic Center’s facade and roof, an estimated $8 million to $9 million project. The panels are coming loose from the building and Doyon has indicated it creates a safety problem if they start falling off the front of the building. Engineers have also found some cracking behind those panels and the roof has been leaking, sometimes into the Mansfield Theater and Convention Center, which could cause additional damage.

Doyon argues that keeping certain city departments on the current Civic Center campus makes sense from a logistical, management and efficiency standpoint. It also makes financial sense, he said, and he prefers to use existing city owned property.

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Commission meetings haven’t yet been scheduled to discuss the terms of the lease renewal and Mitchell said if the rent increases, it could cause financial problems for the museum.

Mitchell said they’ve been budgeting “to make sure we can be around. It’s important for use to continue our services, regardless of what happens with the city.”

She said they want to keep admission rates the same since part of their vision is to never turn someone away for their inability to pay. The daily admission rates are currently $5 per person for ages 2-64; $4 per person 65 and older; newborn to 23 months are free.

Mitchell said there are daycares that have memberships and school groups schedule ahead and get a discount.

She said typically, the museum serves about 75,000 people annually.