KENNEWICK — Late last year, Beth Crocker, a Tri-Cities banking professional with three young children, posted a question on Facebook.
The West Richland resident wondered what child-friendly activities are available in the Tri-Cities.
The post sparked a lively online conversation among parents.
Inspired, Crocker and Chelsea Blair, a Richland resident who also has three young kids, decided to organize a coffee date for parents. They wanted to talk about local opportunities to serve families with young kids.
The result is a fast-growing effort to establish a children’s museum somewhere in the Tri-Cities. The movement comes more than a decade after the Three Rivers Children’s Museum ended its 20-year run around 2012 after running into financial difficulties, according to Tri-City Herald coverage.
Blair grew up going to the old museum and missed having it as an option for her own children.
The two women expected five or six people to show up for coffee. More than 200 expressed interest and they realized they had an opportunity on their hands.
They rented meeting space and put their thoughts into a PowerPoint presentation for the February gathering. The meeting led to a formal effort to establish the Mid-Columbia Children’s Museum, led by a 12-member task.
Blair is president and Crocker is vice president. They’re based at Fuse SPC, the co-working space at The Parkway, in Richland.
Children’s museum legacy
If built, the Mid-Columbia Children’s Museum will build on the legacy of the Three Rivers Children’s Museum and a subsequent effort, Hands In for Hands On (HIHO) Tri-Cities, that formed in 2016 to bring a Pacific Science Center style children’s museum to the area.
HIHO too ran into financial issues. State records show it formally dissolved in 2019.
Broadly, the Mid-Columbia vision is for a hands-on educational space that inspires curiosity in children up to about age 12. The Reach Museum in Richland is an excellent facility but is not a children’s museum, organizers say.
Blair and Crocker say support for the idea exceeded their expectations. The museum’s Facebook page attracted 1,000 followers within days of its launch in June. By mid-July, it had 1,500 followers and more than 1,100 likes.
“We really see this as a community hub,” Crocker said.
The two-pronged campaign is building support among families with hands-on pop-up events, as well as outreach to the business community.
For the former, the task force assembled traveling exhibits they use to draw families to the pop-up events they hold throughout the summer.
The pop ups let children build sail boats, create spin art, dig for dinosaurs, make flower arrangements and traverse obstacle courses.
The Mid-Columbia Children’s Museum has shown up in Richland parks, at the Pasco Farmers Market and in Kennewick at Summers Hub and the Public Market.
Business community takes note
While the museum builds hosts families in local parks, the business outreach is paying off.
Three Rivers Community Foundation stepped in as the fiscal sponsor while volunteers work to secure 501(c)(3) nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service. The foundation is able to accept donations on the museum’s behalf.
Visit Tri-Cities, the region’s tourism agency, is cheering it on.
“We are thrilled to see our community welcome and support this grassroots effort to establish a children’s museum for our region., Corbin Hunter, creative director for Visit Tri-Cities, told the Herald.
“The Tri-Cities is recognized across the Northwest as a place where innovation, science, and history is accessible and families thrive. The children’s museum can bring all of these great things in our community together.”
Washington River Protection Solutions, a Department of Energy contractor for the Hanford cleanup, sponsored its membership in the Tri-City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
The offer of chamber membership was unsolicited, but welcome.
The chamber membership raises awareness as the board begins raising money to pay for a feasibility study. The professional review will guide what size facility the museum needs, the types of exhibits and activities and even where it should go.
The museum wants to raise up to $250,000 for the feasibility study and to buy a trailer for the traveling exhibits and gear.
More than anything, the museum is committed to getting the details right. The museum will be a nonprofit, but to be viable, it must cover most of its costs through earned revenue such as sales, rentals and admission fees.
Similar children’s museums typically half their operating costs, but some go as high as 70%. Grants and donations typically fuel the rest.
For Blair and Crocker, the clock is ticking.
They want the museum to open in time for their own children, now 1 to 6, to enjoy it before they age out in their teens.
Developing a plan and raising money will take time, but Blair hopes to see something open within a decade.
“Not tomorrow, but….,” she said.
Follow the children’s museum’s progress on Facebook or at mccmuseum.org. Donate online through Three Rivers Community Foundation at bit.ly/44Jv4sW