The Jackson Hole Children’s Museum launched four years ago, nestled in its current 2,200-square-foot home, owned by the town of Jackson and leased to the nonprofit for $1 a year.
It was a rental deal that allowed the museum to get started and to grow roots in the community. But educators in the organization say the space is not large enough to meet the demand for after-school programming and educational opportunities for kids.
“We really are growing out of this space,” said Julie D’Amours, director of education at the Children’s Museum. “There will be a winter day and we’re packed with visitors, and on top of that we’ll have programming with an additional 20 students. We find ourselves having to be really creative with where to fit people.”
With that in mind, the museum recently pitched an expansion proposal to the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation board, signaling the organization’s intent to make a run for 6,500 square feet of unclaimed flex space in the recreation center master plan.
The $34 million rec center plan, which would expand and upgrade the center while also adding to the aquatics center, will be presented to town and county officials at Monday’s joint information meeting.
Jean Lewis, director of early childhood education at the Children’s Museum, said she envisions the flex space, should the museum obtain it, as a new home for the museum and a “one-stop shop where kids of all ages, families of all ages could come.” It would feature exhibits on topics such as light and sound, circuitry and electricity, and natural sciences. It would be designed to appeal to kids up to 15.
The rec center flex space has been considered for several purposes, including a bowling alley and a climbing gym. When the latter proposal was shelved, the Children’s Museum started thinking about expansion possibilities in the space, said Jim Lewis, who serves on the museum’s board of directors.
“We could do so much more with more space,” he said. “There’s a wealth of opportunities here.”
The museum focuses on children up to about age 11, with designated learning areas such as a creativity studio and shadow room, and exhibits like a wind machine and magnetic wall. Every corner of the building is packed with activities, hallways included, which contribute to the museum’s after-school programs, summer camps and school group visits.
After-school programs are developed through a partnership with several other entities, including the Teton Literacy Center and Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation. But the programs are difficult to get into and the waitlists are long, Jean Lewis said.
“Literally, almost every time, the rec center system fails [during registration] because there are so many people online,” she said. “It’s super competitive.”
The Children’s Museum is not banking on the recreation center space, however, as the rec center master plan first needs to be approved and funded before a formal request for proposals can be sent out for the flex space. It’s a process that could take years, and there’s no guarantee that the museum would be able to nab the spot.
While museum staff is considering the rec center its “plan A,” it is also exploring other options, as it’s “always been in the vision to find a bigger space,” D’Amours said.
“You’re just trapped,” Jim Lewis said. “These four walls essentially trap our ability to expand our programs.”