Morony Park could be option for Children’s Museum in preliminary discussions

The Children’s Museum of Montana is still on the hunt for a new location.

The museum is currently in a city owned building behind the Civic Center, a building the city intends to take over when the current five-year lease expires in 2023.

In June, the museum asked the city to consider the possibility of using parkland for the new site of their museum.
Children’s Museum eyeing city parkland for new facility

Great Falls Park and Recreation staff reviewed potential options and had a preliminary list of several city parks.

They have since removed Carter, Madison and West Side Kiwanis from consideration since they’re higher usage parks, among other factors.

Steve Herrig, Park and Rec director, said during a July meeting that the three best potential options would be Riverview, Morony or Skyline Property, a piece of city-owned property next to Skyline Elementary that is not designated as parkland.

Herrig said during the July park board meeting that they want to be very cautious about giving up any land the city might need for future use, particularly the potential for a combined indoor pool and recreation center facility.
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The city is planning to start a feasibility study on the potential combined facility in the near future, likely using some Community Development Block Grant funds.

Herrig and the park board said Riverview Park could be a good location for that potential facility.

For the Children’s Museum, city staff is considering Morony Park since it’s downtown, highly visible and accessible. The park is located at 111 12th St. N. and is the site of the Natatorium.

“I think it would be perfect,” said June Sprout, park board member.
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Herrig said the museum wanted to purchase the land, but “there’s hiccups all the way around that.”

He said a long-term lease will likely be the best option but that will require further discussions within city departments before making a formal recommendation to the City Commission.

A new museum at Morony Park might require the loss of some very mature trees, depending on site design, said Todd Seymanski, city forester.

The process to lease or sell parkland will require public meetings and commission approval, but, Herrig said, it could give the children’s museum a place to start as a potential new location to determine whether it would work for them.
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In a June interview with The Electric, the museum’s director Sherrie Neff said they’re working on conceptual designs for the new museum, but those designs will depend on location and whether they’re renovating an existing structure or building new.

“It is gonna happen. Exactly when and exactly where, we don’t know yet,” she said. “We’d love to be downtown, because it’s best of the city.”

Since the museum could draw tourism, Neff said they wouldn’t want to draw people away from the downtown, but they are looking at a number of options.

Neff said they’re working on creating a new museum mascot and have reached out to a mascot creator who has mascots in the hall of fame. They won’t be announcing that or everything going into the museum until it’s all coming together, she said.

“When we open, we want to open with a bang,” Neff said.
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She said they’re working on creating educational components for young visitors to learn basics and items for standardized testing, as well as use augmented reality and games to enhance education.

“That’s why it’s so exciting talking about the new museum,” she said.

They have plans to include a Parkour course with options for adults and youth.

For now, they’re fundraising for the design phase of the project, as well as researching grants and available funding resources, Neff said.

The museum always takes donations and charges $5 for admission, but also offers scholarships for camps and programs based on financial need, Neff said.

She said she wants the museum to showcase Montana industries and history. She envisions a map board to show what kinds of products are made in Montana, such as grain, and those where it goes around the world.

“We are making a difference around the world, not just in our little rural community,” Neff said.

She said the museum will do brainstorming sessions for individual exhibits eventually, and is reaching out to industry organizations for input, but right now, they’re focused on overarching concepts for the new museum.

The museum has hosted several public meetings so far to gather community input on the future of the museum.

Sophia Sparklin is the project architect and in mid-June, the museum team met with Studio Y Creations and Luci Creative, as well as a construction estimator.

Sparklin said they’re hoping the new museum can be twice the size of the current facility, with about 20,000 square feet of exhibit space, and about the same amount of square footage for administrative space, party rooms, theater, cafe, Parkour, mini golf and other uses.

Representatives from Luci Creative said that in their experience, costs can range from $400 to $1,000 per square foot for exhibit space, putting an estimate for new construction anywhere from $8 million to $20 million.

There are so many variables this early in a project, the designers said, making it important to determine the purpose and goal of each exhibit.

“We want to develop a world class museum,” Neff said, and that could cost anywhere from $50 million to $100 million.