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March 5, 2018

Children's Museum & Theatre's $14M expansion advances at Thompson's Point

Coutersy / Bruner/Cott & Associates Land has been purchased at Thompson's Point in Portland for the new Children's Museum & Theatre of Maine, which will feature plenty of exhibit space, with room for expansion.

With the purchase of 1.12 acres at Thompson’s Point in Portland, the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine takes another step toward its planned construction of a new 30,000-square-foot facility.

In a deal that closed Dec. 22, 2017, Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine purchased the land at 10 Thompson’s Point from Forefront Partners LLP for an unspecified price.

The transaction was arranged on behalf of the seller by Drew Sigfridson of CBRE|The Boulos Co.

The new building will replace the organization’s current home, a 18,000-square-foot space at 142 Free St. The overall project is expected to cost $14 million, said the organization’s executive director, Suzanne Olson.

The organization, which is in the early stages of fund-raising for its Thompson's Point expansion, has been in its current digs in downtown Portland for 25 years. The 142 Free St. building was built in the late 1800s.

“So it was never designed to be a building for kids and families,” said Olson. “It’s been a great space for a long time, but we felt like we’d outgrown it. And the new kinds of exhibits we're eager to have won’t physically fit into the space because of its layout and ceiling height.”

The Children's Museum of Maine was founded in 1976 and moved into 142 Free St. in 1993. In 2008, the Children's Theatre of Maine merged with the museum. According to the organization’s mission statement, the work within the museum reaches children 6 months to 10 years old. Theatre productions include cast and crew members ages 8 to 17. Outreach and programming serve students and educators throughout the state, in classes from pre-K through 5th grade.

The organization aims for the new facility to be more family-friendly and also to expand the museum’s age range to 14, Olson said. Part of the organization’s mission is to make sure all families can participate regardless of their ability to pay, through scholarship memberships and free passes.

The museum also considered it important to have better space for adults.

“Kids are always very happy with what we do,” she said. “But parking has been a challenge, we don’t have bathrooms on every floor, things like, that.”

The facility attracts 115,0000 visitors per year, up from 100,000 from 10 years ago. The museum current employs 20 staffers and has another 50 volunteers.

“A typical day is people waiting at the door when we open, noses to the glass, eager to come in,” said Olson. “It’s really full of great energy all the time.”

What's planned in the new building

With Bruner/Cott & Associates of Cambridge, Mass., as the architect, the new building will have three floors. The first floor will have a large lobby, climbing structure, and state-of-the-art theater space.

“A big part of the move is the theater space, which we haven’t had before,” said Olson. “We have space that we use for theater.” The new theater will include theater amenities like a green room, tech booth and fabrication shop.

The second floor will have exhibits focused around the community. The third floor will have exhibits focused on science, technology, education and math, including a 1,000-square-foot exhibit of Maine’ watershed, with big touch tanks available throughout the day. The latter is the primary exhibit that won’t fit in the existing facility, where the museum has been offering smaller tide pool touch tanks available a couple of times a day.

The new building will be modern with lots of glass, an exterior that will feature interesting metal patterns with color variations, steel framing and high ceilings up to 15 feet in most spaces. The extra acreage will provide space for outdoor exhibits and community spaces.

“Part of that will be ready when we open, and part will grow over time,” said Olson.

Zachau Construction of Freeport has been contracted as construction manager. The design firm handling exhibits is Hands On! Studio of Saint Petersburg, Fla. Tenji Inc., headquartered in Carmel, Calif., with a branch in Maine, will handle the design and construction of the new museum’s aquarium. Business partners on the project are Gorham Savings Bank, Pierce Atwood, Haley & Aldrich and Stantec and Credere.

It’s expected that site work will begin in the next few months, with construction to begin late summer and completion expected the following summer, said Olson.

The museum’s board of directors began thinking about Thompson’s Point for relocation since Chris Thompson and Forefront Partners began developing the land in 2011, said Olson.

“We’ve known about a decade that we’d need a bigger space,” she said, adding of the existing space, “This has been a great space. We’ve loved being here. It’s just a natural evolution.”

Market research suggests the Children's Museum & Theatre can double its attendance in the new space, said Olson, who added that the new facility will be in synch with Portland’s overall development. As young families look at the city as a possible place to live, she said, they typically take into consideration amenities like the museum that are available.

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