Downtown Allegan’s “Secret Spaces” tour guide Fred Jordan shows the interior condition of the Forever Curious Childrens’ Museum. Built in 1903 as a saloon, the museum needs $500,000 to renovate the first and second floors.

Children's museum seeks grants to fund Allegan location

By: 
Virginia Ransbottom, Staff Writer

The Allegan building project for the Forever Curious Childrens’ Museum is currently in the process of applying for a USDA rural development community facilities program loan.

With corporate documentation in place, executive director Mary Kasprzyk said the pre-approval process is looking good and the next step is to firm up and submit an in-depth operating budget. If that is approved, then the next process is meeting with key community players who will have a vested interest in the museum.

An estimated time frame for approval or disapproval is 2015. When in 2015, the USDA representative is not sure.

While waiting for word on the $500,000 USDA loan, other grant writing and fundraising efforts will continue.

It’s all part of the long, tedious process to secure funding which has been more difficult in Allegan than it was for the museum’s Fennville location.

In Fennville, a longtime resident stepped forward who bought and renovated a building to house the museum.

“In Allegan, we have people donating services, but no one is stepping forward for funding,” Kasprzyk said.

A recent fundraising effort in July turned out to be unprofitable.

Kasprzyk said while best selling author, speaker and wounded warrior Luis Carlos Montalván and his golden retriever were special guests of two events in July, the event in the Allegan area, which had a capacity for 150 people, only attracted 30 participants and those were museum volunteers and their families.

“No one came to support it from Allegan although the Saugatuck event did better,” Kasprzyk said

The frustrated director said it’s a challenge to fundraise for the museum since it’s a topic that doesn’t pull at heartstrings; however, educational needs are just as important, she said.

Funding was originally estimated at $250,000 to move into the first floor of the building occupying two storefronts at 134 and 136 Brady St.

That cost rose to $300,000 after a harsh winter revealed the entire roof needed replacement.  

About $25,000 in capital campaign funds has been spent to fix initial roof damage to prevent further leakage and pay utility bills since taking over the building from the city.

“If we shut off utilities, it could cause damage and it would cost more to have the gas, electric and water hooked up again,” Kasprzyk said. “The aged building still has the original wiring and plumbing from the early 1900s. We also needed to have it checked for asbestos.”

To occupy the second floor, $200,000 would be needed.

Another setback is accessibility complying with the American Disabilities Act. While the building’s façade received $50,000 in renovations by the city, there are some questions whether the entrance is ADA accessible according to codes for a public museum, meaning an entryway may have to be renovated again, Kasprzyk said.

In March 2014 the museum received a one-year extension by the Allegan DDA on the original 18-month lease, which required the museum to be operational in Allegan by the expiration date.

The Fennville Children’s Museum reopened after renovations on Oct. 2.

“We refreshed, repainted, repaired current exhibits and added some exciting pieces the children will enjoy,” Kasprzyk said. “This will show Fennville we are still invested in downtown and not going anywhere.”

The museum in Fennville was named “Favorite Find of the Entire Summer” by Travel Editor, Julie Henning Road Trips for Families.

Field trips and private parties pay the operational expenses which are also planned for the Allegan location.

Drawing from two target market populations, the Fennville location attracts visitors from the lakeshore area, traveling from a 30-60 mile radius, as well as from neighboring states to second homes on the lakeshore.

The Allegan location is expected to offer the eastern side of the county its own unique entertaining and educational exhibits, while helping stimulate the riverfront as a destination stop with more foot traffic.

Kasprzyk said it’s important communities realize the opportunity of having a children’s museum is made available by a core group of volunteers.

“There is only one staff member paid part-time and the rest is donated services,” she said. “It’s not going to happen without a community buy-in and I challenge any community support.”

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