Re-imagined DuPage Children's Museum opens Saturday -- 8 months after flood
The leader of the DuPage Children's Museum in Naperville opens her eyes wide, stretches her arms out and just says, "Wow."
Sarah Orleans, president and CEO of the major early learning destination that has been closed since a pipe burst Jan. 9, knows now that she's accomplished her goal of rebuilding the museum -- not just to match its former playful glory, but to improve on it.
"It's so beautiful, and people are loving it," Orleans said Wednesday as the museum welcomed the grade school set for the first time since flooding struck. "The kids love it."
Children of some of the museum's 1,000 volunteers were the first to play on its newly redesigned exhibits. They got a head start on other children and families, who will be able to enter starting at 9 a.m. Saturday during its grand reopening at 301 N. Washington St.
What visitors will see has been almost completely re-imagined and renovated following the flood, which damaged all three floors.
Take, for example, the third level. It now focuses on math and is dominated by an all-new exhibit called Math Playground.
"It's all about shapes and how we can feel them with our bodies," said Katie Edinger, senior public program manager.
Kids can lounge in a roomy hexagon or see what it feels like to squeeze into a trapezoid. And that's just for starters.
Check out the large Creativity Connections space on the main floor, where a low, triangular "pyramis bench" invites kids to work together to fill square-shaped gaps in the base with blocks, creating their own structures. Old "pyramis tables" were a kid favorite, Edinger said, but they were small and led to youngsters playing in isolation.
"We're really hoping that the size will encourage cooperative play to build something larger," Edinger said.
The "Make It Move" section of the museum, which still features remnants of original materials the museum's founders carted to different locations 28 years ago before a physical space was established, also is redesigned. New in the ramps and rollers portion of "Make It Move" is an uneven, stair-stepped floor below a large conveyor belt that demonstrates how a simple machine moves objects from one spot to another. Kids play with the belt by cranking its wheel.
"I can already see that it's going to be quite the hit," Edinger said.
Other new additions include the Explorer Store near the entrance and a round Wonder Room with a mural, a color-shifting bench and a digital projector that changes with shadows -- all in space that used to be occupied by an office. Program rooms and school labs have been rebuilt and decorated with murals by local artists. And The Family Room on the top floor offers a quiet space away from the bustle of the museum, stocked with learning resources for parents and play experiences for their young.
Adults touring the building Wednesday noticed the space seems broader, more open.
"We really wanted to showcase the grandeur of the building by having these big, flowing spaces," Edinger said.
Orleans calls it "a playful sophistication," something the design team aimed to create during eight months and seven days away from the 50,000-square-foot space.
"We created ways that really slow kids down where they can stop and explore and do all these great activities," Orleans said.
The entire rebuild cost about $2 million, and Orleans estimates the museum incurred another $1 million for operating off-site at DCM@The Mall at Westfield Fox Valley in Aurora and losing business that otherwise would have visited the main location.
Before opening to the public, the museum celebrated one more new space: the Mayor A. George Pradel Volunteer Center on the third floor, which offers computers, lockers and meeting space for all those who donate their time to DuPage Children's Museum.
"When you volunteer for the children," Pradel said as the space was dedicated in his honor, "you see their lives change and you see them benefit."