Reminder Assistant Editor
WESTFIELD The building at 29 South Broad St. is the vibrant shell of the Amelia Park Children's Museum (APCM).
It's a colorful play land with brightly painted walls and multicolored carpeting, a place where even the bathrooms are beautifully painted to transport children into fantasy worlds under the sea or to Jurassic Park.
Despite large-scale efforts to raise funds approximately $450,000 has been raised thus far the museum's interior still lacks exhibits.
The APCM is still approximately $300,000 short of fully funding all of the exhibits. However, the board has decided to open the museum's doors for a soft opening in June after at least three exhibits have been installed.
"The development of the Amelia Park Children's Museum has been a learning process," Doug DeLeo, president of the APCM Board of Directors, said. "Our goal was to open when all exhibits were fully funded, but we are still shy of the total exhibit cost of $750,000. We have been offering limited hours and programs since November; however, it is time to open our doors and introduce the wider community to this incredibly amazing new space."
The museum was first opened at 99 Elm St. in 1997 before moving to its currently larger and newer location.
Last week work crews began installing the location's first and largest exhibit, "The Kid Powered Universe." This exhibit with a price tag of $375,000 is one of three that are fully funded. The exhibit was made possible by a generous donation from Albert Ferst of Westfield.
"The Kid Powered Universe" is one of 13 proposed exhibits. This exhibit allows children to use approximately 2,000 foam balls to "power the sun." Museumgoers can play pilot of the Children's Exploration Vehicle to shoot the balls into the sun or use several compressed air cannons to be shot from three platforms leading up to a slide. The sun will then dump the thousands of balls onto the children to keep game alive.
"The space exhibit is the most complex of all exhibits and we could not have brought it together without the help of many local venders who donated their time and services," Neil Roache, museum exhibit coordinator, said.
Other exhibits scheduled for completion prior to the soft opening include the installation of Berkshire Bank within the Main Street Exhibit. A Big Y fully equipped with "groceries" and cash registers has already been completed on Main Street. Other exhibits such as the medical exhibit, "Act It Out Theater" stage and a live animal exhibit are also scheduled for construction.
Lori Farrell, APCM interim operations director explained that despite the empty space, donated props have already ignited children's imaginations such as the examining chair for the medical exhibit.
"Kids do full checkups in that chair with no props," she said. "It's so great to see their imaginations just run wild."
Farrell said the automated teller machine (ATM) allows children to take out as much play money as possible with the use of any one of their parent's credit cards.
Other exhibits still available for funding include the "Act It Out Theater" ($63,905), the restaurant or caf ($11,000), the "Toddler Garden" ($28,375), the science stations ($8,000) and nature center ($102,000). Exhibits in need of partial funding include the "Healthy You (Wellness)" exhibit, the medical exhibit and the multicultural exhibit.
"We have to start generating revenue to support the staff," Roache explained of the need to open the museum before all the exhibits are funded.
"We very much appreciate the support and generosity of the community in getting us to this point," DeLeo said. "Many museums have to close completely, but we have been fortunate to be able to stay open for most of the time in some capacity [for private parties, playgroups and fundraisers]. Our plan now is to open with what we have and demonstrate to the community that this is a project we can all be proud of and that we can continue to believe in."
For more information about the APCM go to www.ameliaparkmuseum.org.