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Richmond children’s museum planning branch here

Maria Luiza Albano , her sister Maria Antonia Albano and her father Jose Albano work on an arts-and-crafts project in the Art Studio at the Chirldren's Museum of Richmond. (Robert A. Martin/The Free Lance-Star)

BY BILL FREEHLING

The Children’s Museum of Richmond plans to open a Fredericksburg-area branch and hopes to have it up and running by the end of 2013.

The local branch is in the early planning stages, and no location has been selected.

CMoR, as it’s known, is surveying Fredericksburg-area families with young children to get a feel for what the region wants and what the best site would be.

A merry-go-round is the latest addition to the Chirldren's Museum of Richmond. The museum is planning a satellite location in Fredericksburg, Va. (Robert A. Martin/The Free Lance-Star)

Fundraising will start in earnest this summer, and that process could determine where the branch ends up.

“We’re excited about it,” said Karen Coltrane, president and chief executive officer of the Children’s Museum of Richmond, which started in 1981.

Coltrane is now focusing most of her energy on getting CMoR’s planned Chesterfield County branch open in June. That will be in a 26,000-square-foot space in part of a former Winn–Dixie location in the Winterpock Crossing Shopping Center.

Coltrane will turn her attention to Fredericksburg after the Chesterfield branch opens. She envisions the local branch being between about 20,000 and 25,000 square feet, probably in leased space.

CMoR’s road to Fredericksburg has two forks that merged in a partnership earlier this year.

Coltrane said CMoR’s board has been eyeing the Fredericksburg region since 2009, when the museum formulated a strategy of opening satellite campuses. The board identified Henrico and Chesterfield counties, Williamsburg and Fredericksburg as additions to CMoR’s flagship 44,000-square-foot downtown Richmond branch. Plans for the Williamsburg location have since been scrapped.

CMoR officials targeted the Fredericksburg area because a sizable percentage of the organization’s members were coming from the region, and the board liked the area’s growth and demographics.

The hugely successful 2010 launch of CMoR’s first satellite, which is in the Short Pump area of Henrico County, gave the board confidence in the multi-branch strategy.

EXPLORING A PARTNERSHIP

Around the same time, a group of women in the Fredericksburg area—including Jessica Beringer, Kate DuMont, Jenny DuPuy, Christine Garman, Brooke Kingsley, Kirstin Snead and Emily Williams—were working on plans of their own for a local children’s museum.

The women formed an organization called the Cobblestone Children’s Museum, and later changed its name to the Explore it! Children’s Museum. The organization started putting on temporary exhibits while making plans for a permanent home and will continue to do so until CMoR establishes its local branch.

A new exhibit, called “Build it!” will début April 14 at the University of Mary Washington’s multicultural fair.

The local women met with directors of the children’s museums in Lynchburg, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville as part of their efforts to get a Fredericksburg-area location started. This past fall, they started meeting with CMoR officials, unaware at first of their plans for the Fredericksburg area. The idea for a partnership quickly arose.

The plan is now for CMoR to own and operate the Fredericksburg-area branch, while the people behind Explore it! and perhaps others will form an advisory board to help oversee and plan the local branch and assist with fundraising.

It’s unclear whether the Explore it! name will be integrated into the local branch in some capacity.

Coltrane praised the work of the Explore it! board members, saying they helped raise local awareness and enthusiasm for a children’s museum. And she commended their willingness to partner with CMoR.

Doing so means there will be a children’s museum in the Fredericksburg area much sooner than otherwise would have been the case, said Beringer, president of the volunteer board of Explore it!

CHOOSING A SITE

Plans for the local branch call for features similar to those at the downtown and Chesterfield sites, which cater to children between about 4 months and 8 years old. The Short Pump location is geared more to younger children.

Beringer said she’d like the Fredericksburg-area branch to have some focus on science, health and nature.

Beringer said the Explore it! board favors a downtown Fredericksburg location for the museum, but that it wants what is best for CMoR. Coltrane said the market research will help CMoR decide where the branch should be.

Previous experience has taught CMoR that it’s best to locate in a spot that has easy access to other amenities, allowing visitors to integrate a trip to the museum into errands and other activities. The location could also be determined during the fundraising campaign—if, for example, a large donor has a preference or is willing to offer a site.

The children’s museum is expected to be a significant draw and the process is likely to lead to competition among commercial real estate brokers and economic development officials.

CMoR wants to raise about $500,000 to pay for the costs of building out the new branch and purchasing exhibits, Coltrane said. That could come from public, individual and corporate donations.

Fundraising will continue beyond the initial effort due to the ongoing need for new exhibits.

CMoR, a not-for-profit organization, does not accept government assistance for operating expenses. Regular admission to the museum is $8, and an annual family membership is $125. Members can access all CMoR branches, meaning that Fredericksburg-area families who have already joined will soon have a much-closer option.

“We are just so thrilled that they believe in Fredericksburg,” Beringer said of CMoR. “We couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405

bfreehling@freelancestar.com

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