The Jackson Hole Children’s Museum plans to stay open, despite its building being turned into workforce housing next year.
“The big thing that we’re trying to squash is that we’re closing,” Executive Director Jean Lewis said. “That’s not the case. All of our programs will continue. We’re open, and we’re here to stay.”
The museum offers interactive, hands-on exhibits, educational programs in the arts and sciences and summer camps. It also partners with Teton County schools for after-school programs for K-5 students.
“We’ve become an extremely necessary part of this community,” Lewis said. “Families and children depend on us on a daily basis. One of the biggest needs in this community is out-of-school care for working families, and we’re extremely committed to the working families in this town. If we go away there’s really nobody else to pick up the slack.”
Lewis estimated that her organization serves over 1,000 working families a year through its programs, as well as 1,300 kindergarten through fifth-grade students through the organization’s partnership with Teton County Schools’ science, technology, engineering, art and math programs.
The town-owned property at 174 N. King St., where the museum resides for rock-bottom rent, is scheduled to be redeveloped into workforce housing.
“Currently, we have a partnership with the town where we are housed in a town facility for $1 a year,” Lewis said.
The facility is 2,700 square feet, and Lewis said the going rate in this town is about $30 per square foot per year.
“For an organization like ours, that would require us to pretty much double our annual budget to pay rent like that,” she said.
Her organization always knew there eventually would be a plan for the space, and last summer it became aware of how quickly that would occur.
The museum will lose its facility in February but has a succession plan in place to keep after-school programming strong and, it hopes, find a spot for the children’s museum.
“We’re aggressively trying to find a mini-museum that will continue serving the community while we navigate these other options,” Lewis said. “We’re committed to this community, and we’re asking the community to be committed to us as we go through this transition.”
The developer the Jackson Town Council chose in March to create 23 new apartments on that lot, Westmount Development, will include a commercial space on the ground floor of the planned building, but it is not guaranteed to be rented to the Children’s Museum.
Lewis is “navigating a potential partnership” for a transition space that’s centrally located and hopes the nonprofit “will still have a small physical space where we can interact with families on a day-to-day basis.”
The search is still on for a “forever home.”
Teton County schools’ after-school programs will be offered through an outreach model and a partnership with Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation. Programming will be offered after school at Munger Mountain and Jackson elementary schools, a change Lewis said wasn’t actually related to losing its space.
“All of our programming is going to go uninterrupted, even when we have to move out of this space,” she said. “All of our programming will be the same, just a different location.”
St. John’s Episcopal Church is also partnering with the children’s museum to offer administrative space and room for educational materials to be stored and organized.
Lewis is asking community members to consider donating to the children’s museum and to keep their eyes and ears out for affordable real estate for rent.
“As a nonprofit, we’re very dependent on individual donations and support as we navigate this process,” she said. “Landowners I don’t even know are calling me, and sometimes there are these random ‘aha’ moments. The way we’re going to do this is somebody connecting us to a space. My phone is always on, and my email is always open to anybody. I just love it when people bring ideas to us.”