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News / Politics / Clark County Politics

Sen. Annette Cleveland secures $515K to help Columbia Play Project kick-start children’s museum in Clark County

Organization will use funds to plan, design facility

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: April 27, 2023, 6:02am

The creation of a new children’s museum in Clark County took a step forward this week after state Sen. Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, secured $515,000 in funding for Columbia Play Project. The funding comes from the state’s local and community funds budget.

“Nothing is more important than healthy children and families. Play is essential to health as it contributes to cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being,” Cleveland said in a press release Monday. “Securing state funding for the Columbia Play Project helps support this important local effort and advances the vision for a children’s museum in Vancouver to support the success of future generations.”

The funds will be used to offer public engagement opportunities, business and strategic planning, space identification, space and exhibit planning, and design, according to the press release.

“Columbia Play Project intends to build a world-class exploratory play space with permanent and rotating exhibits; art, makers, science and computer labs; a theater; outdoor play space; and a curated children’s library,” said Jeanne Bennett, board chair for Columbia Play Project.

Bennett said the $515,000 will allow the organization to begin the work necessary to make its dream of a local children’s museum a reality. She said Columbia Play Project isn’t sure yet how the funding can be used per state Department of Revenue requirements, but it is working on ironing out those details.

“We’re just very early in that process. Our hope is that we’ll be able to conduct some community engagement process so that we can learn what people would like to see included in a children’s museum,” Bennett said.

From there, she said Columbia Play Project will begin to create designs and plans for the museum, a business plan and a strategic plan.

“In my dreams, it would be a 20-year strategic plan with shorter five-year increments that would get us to building and opening a children’s museum. And then from there, what would be the next iteration as we continue to serve the community,” Bennett said.

Columbia Play Project will need to find other funding sources to build the museum. Bennett said having a business plan, strategic plan and basic design for the museum space would allow it to apply for more grants, federal and state funding, and philanthropic support. It is also weighing whether to build a new space or remodel an existing building.

“We’d like to open it today, but that can’t happen. This is probably a three- to five-year process. A children’s museum that is built in an existing space … would probably cost somewhere between $20 million to $30 million. Building something from scratch … would be something like $40 million,” Bennett said.

The need for a children’s museum in Clark County became more evident, Bennett said, after the Portland Children’s Museum closed in June 2021. She said that need hasn’t lessened any in the intervening years.

While it waits on building the museum, Columbia Play Project operates a mobile children’s museum that travels into communities to provide educational and exploratory play experiences.

“We launched that last year, so we’re out and about. We have an extensive public schedule happening this spring, summer and fall. But we really want a full-scale children’s museum,” Bennett said.

Columbia Play Project also developed at-home play kits last year that focus on local ecosystems. The kits are designed for kids age 3-7.

For more information, go to www.columbiaplayproject.org.