RYE, N.Y. – After more than a decade of planning and fundraising, the Westchester Children’s Museum is aiming to begin construction at Playland in Rye this year, with an eye to opening in 2015.
The museum will be in the former men’s bathhouses on the boardwalk, and will feature a number of interactive and educational activities for children and families. The museum will be open year-round, and anticipates a yearly attendance of about 200,000 people.
“There’s a real need in Westchester County for enriching learning spaces where families can come and interact with other families,” said Corinne Zola, president of the board of directors for the Campaign for the Westchester Children’s Museum. “Certainly for families, this museum will help fill that void.”
The county has an agreement with Sustainable Playland to take over operations of the park, and Sustainable’s Playland Improvement Plan is currently under review by the Board of Legislators. The museum has a separate lease with the county, and is planning on opening regardless of who manages the park.
“Our business plan was established on the basis of, how would we operate if we were the only thing open here,” said Tracy Kay, executive director of the museum. He said that the museum has been in conversation with Sustainable Playland, and that both parties want to work together to create a park that will attract visitors year-round. “Playland is evolving as a campus of activities. However Playland evolves, we want to be a part of that evolution.”
The museum will be hosting two exhibits this summer to act as a preview of what it will offer in the future. There will be a Build Your Own Rollercoaster exhibit, where children can learn about the physics involved in constructing a rollercoaster. There will also be an exhibit of Keva Planks, which children can use to build structures and works of art.
“It’s an educational opportunity, but it’s also an awareness opportunity. It’s a way to let the community know that there will be a real, functioning museum here,” Kay said.
Among the permanent features of the museum will be the Toddler Beach, where children can play with sand castle blocks and climb on foam waves and dunes. The Water Features exhibit will feature water-based activities where children can learn about water in both the natural and built environment, as well as a Water Play area where kids can shoot water blasters and create water sculptures. The Luckey Climber is a climbing structure that will allow kids to climb up above the exhibits and traverse about half the length of the museum.
The Children’s Museum has so far raised about $9 million, and is aiming to raise another $10 million before opening. About $6 million is being invested into fixing up the infrastructure of the bathhouses, which had fallen into disrepair. The museum is reaching out to donors and will be holding fund-raisers such as its annual gala, which will be held May 9 at the museum’s future location. Zola said that they are also encouraging people to become Founding Families through donations of $5,000 or more. Founding Families get their names placed on the columns throughout the museum’s interior.
“It’s a once in a generation opportunity to say that you helped build something that your kids and their kids will enjoy,” Zola said.