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Children's museum in Riverton moves ahead; opening this year planned for downtown building

Mar 10, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Plans are moving again to create the Central Wyoming Children's Center for Art, Technology and Science in Riverton.

Organizers intend to open the new center before the end of this school year, said CATS board president Nance Shelsta.

The center has received approval as a non-profit organization and is set to be located at 120 South Third St. East in downtown Riverton.

The museum is in its fourth year of planning with the input of local professionals, retired educators, active community members and representatives of associations. In discussions planners agreed there is no indoor place in Riverton to give young children the opportunity to learn and play through interactive educational activities.

Shelsta and husband Steve realized options were limited for their nine grandchildren to do something educational and fun in Riverton.

"It became very apparent to us that we have nothing when the weather is really hot or really cold," Shelsta said.

The group came to the consensus that there are several family-oriented facilities in the area, including indoor swimming pools, libraries, museums and ice rinks, but some require a long drive or are not entirely suitable for young children. Nothing exists to target interactive play and learning at the specific developmental level of younger kids.

Exhibits and donations

Shelsta said plans call for a smaller startup, with the goal of creating an endowment program that eventually would be sufficient to build or occupy a bigger facility in Riverton. The current site is an 11,000 square-foot space.

"Ideally we would like to build a state-of-the-art facility, but this is where we're starting," Shelsta said.

Their business plan showed that approximately 40 percent of the operating costs are expected to be generated from admission fees, a gift shop that offers educational toys, games and books, and a rental room for birthday parties.

The remaining 60 percent of funding would come from grants, corporate and small business support, and individual donations.

The board hopes to build inexpensive exhibits with the guidance of Doug Newlin and help of local volunteers, including students.

"We really want to engage the community," Shelsta said.

The board has brainstormed hands-on exhibits such as a children's bank with a drive-thru ATM machine.

"This can help enhance their financial literacy," she said.

A car repair shop would be another exhibit to introduce car design, technology, car parts, and their functions, Shelsta said.

Also under discussion is a pizza shop where children can pretend to take orders, make the pizza, and serve customers in the roles of cook, cashier and server. Children could learn to take payments and work together.

A music room is another idea. Mammoth Music in Riverton has donated musical instruments, Shelsta said.

A separate birthday room would provide parents with a venue to celebrate their children's birthdays with invited guests, plus access to the exhibits.

When not being rented, the room would work as an art room and give children a place to participate in art projects led by local art teachers.

Exhibit themes would change, Shelsta said, to offer new, different and interesting learning experiences.

Planners also hope to borrow exhibits from other museums.

The School District 25 Recreation Board recently approved a donation of roughly $9,000, and the CATS board accepted another donation from Fremont Motor Co. School District 25 donated tables, chairs and lockers. Shelsta said the center is seeking a children's log cabin playhouse.

The museum will offer contracts with corporations, businesses, and individual donors who can become a "founding partner" by donating $5,000 or more. The donors will be recognized permanently when the museum moves into a larger facility. Donors will be categorized by the amount they give and will be recognized at the museum and on a website, in brochures and through other promotional material.

Board of trustees

Advanced conversations about establishing a children's museum began between Shelsta and Dr. Mohammed Waheed, retired vice president for student services at Central Wyoming College who is a grandfather.

They then met with Alan Moore, who works with the Riverton Economic Development Association, who helped provide information and paperwork to submit to state and federal agencies in order to establish the museum. Roger Bower of the Wyoming Business Council provided demographic data and grant information.

The board of trustees decided the museum would focus on the arts, technology and science for all children in Fremont County.

Katy Branham is vice chair of the board. She is a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Riverton and chairs the non-profit Women-Men in Science program locally.

Megan Ward is the treasurer. She is president of the Long Creek Road User's Association and treasurer for Six Cousins Land Partnership.

Also serving on the board are William Reiter, Dr. Waheed, Doug Newlin Lori Morrow, Jon Cox, Cindy Browall, Tami Stanley and Amy Hageman.

The planning has also received input from an extensive list of advisors knowledgable on economic development, grant possibilities, legal advice, business plan procedures, fundraising suggestions and other useful information to target each component of a museum.

"CATS will rely on a local presence by engaging with local businesses, the community college, school districts and citizens with specific expertise to create a dynamic and versatile educational experience for children," reads the business plan.

Shelsta said the presence of a venus for safely exploring, engaging with exhibits physically, and learning in an indoor location will help the center thrive and bring uniqueness to the county.

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