North Country Children’s Museum’s planned $3.5 million expansion to start soon
BY ADAM ATKINSON
North Country This Week
POTSDAM — A full gallery of supporters turned out to back the North Country Children’s Museum’s planned $3.5 million expansion following a presentation on the project to the village board.
NCCM Executive Director Sharon Vegh Williams laid out the details of the planned expansion at the 10 Raymond Street location for the board at their meeting Monday, March 6. Work on the renovation is expected to start any day.Williams gave an overview of the museum’s history from its start in 2012 as a traveling museum, through its capital campaign and subsequent purchase and renovation of its Raymond Street building, through the pandemic when it continued to operate and employ five people, until the present day.
“While a lot of people say the Children’s Museum is great for kids, but we have a lot of other needs in the community, we really do serve the whole community,” Williams told the board.
The museum draws about 20,000 visitors a year, which includes thousands of children who visit on field trips to play and interact with NCCM’s STEAM education exhibits. The museum hosts BOCES students, college interns in academic programs, college professors and senior citizen visits as well.
Williams said the museum offers discounted memberships for low income families, with about 20 percent of its 600 member families participating in the program. “Our goal is to get that to 50 percent which matches the county’s income bracket,” she said.
Williams showed slides of the museum’s current exhibit space and its planned renovation and expansion into the second floor.
“The big part of the reason why we have so many visitors and over 600 member families is because we deliver a really high end museum experience, the kind of thing you would find in New York City or near Boston and we are bringing it right here to our village,” Williams said.
Williams highlighted the economic contributions of the museum to the local economy as well.
“Clarkon’s (University) economic impact study demonstrated $700,000 annually, with spillover into local businesses, restaurants, hotels,” she said. “So far in 23 we are projecting 28,000 visitors and we have over 625 member families.”
“We’ve really created a regional tourism destination, we bring visitors to our downtown,” she said.
Construction and renovation for the museum’s second floor expansion is slated to kick off early this month.
Williams said the expansion will double floor space to 7,000 square feet and 40,000 annual visitors are projected once the work is complete.
The museum has hired Northern Tier Contracting out of Gouverneur to do the work at the museum and Potsdam architect Brooks Washburn has completed renderings for the project. Blue Rhino Design out of Toronto is developing the exhibit design and Ravenswood Studio out of Chicago will handle exhibit fabrication.
The new space will be geared for children 8 to 12 years old and include a downsized Amish cottage, a maple tree climber with a bubble lookout at the top through the roof, a sound lab in partnership with the Akwesasne community and Crane school of music.
Exhibits will be installed in 2024 after the building renovation is complete, said a press release from the museum last week. A summer 2024 second floor opening is planned.
This $3.5 million project is roughly 85% funded, the museum announced, but the museum is still seeking funding in a capital campaign to cover the total cost, including donations from the public. The project will be partially paid for with $1.4 million in state Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding secured through the village.
Williams did not make any additional funding requests of the village during the presentation.
The Children's Museum's current first floor will remain open during the renovation.
The village’s Civic Center gallery was filled with people who voiced strong support for the museum after Williams' presentation.
“I’ve seen what this gem in the village of Potsdam has meant to the community,” said Trent Sherlock, who was the executive director of the St. Lawrence Historical Association for 17 years and county historian. Sherlock currently volunteers at the museum. “Not only the children and families that live here in the village, but as Sharon’s chart showed, visitors from all over the place.”
“That economic engine that that little museum is, will only increase with the second floor expansion,” he said.
“I was a single mom with a very young child when I moved here in 2016, and the children’s museum gave me that sense of social belonging,” said Rivka Eckert, an assistant drama professor at SUNY Potsdam. She highlighted how the museum will continue to create opportunities for families and parents.
Other supporters pointed out how the museum helps with attraction and retention of new employees to the area.
Following the public comment period, Village Mayor Ron Tishcler addressed the gallery.
“We will do whatever we can as a village, speaking of myself and the board, to help make this project a reality,” Tischler said.
The work on the museum expansion is one part of an overhaul of the whole Raymond-Depot street block. Design work is underway, some of which will include rerouting traffic patterns between Depot and Raymond street with connector lanes, a private rebuild of the former Scanlon Auto Parts building, and a reorganization of parking in the lots facing the museum. Work already done in that corner of the village includes the new SLC Arts headquarters and gallery, the Children’s Museum’s existing facility and Garner Park project which will be part of the village’s Riverwalk.
For more on the museum visit northcountrychildrensmuseum.org or childrensmuseums.org/2019/09/09/small-town-dreams-big/ .