After 5 years of work, a Lake Villa eyesore is getting closer to becoming a children's museum

They won't deny being tenacious - some say stubborn - but without that focus Alison Price and Heidi Alexander would not be as excited about the future of a musty, cavernous building in downtown Lake Villa.

After five years, the executives of the not-for-profit Busy Brains Children's Museum say a corner has been turned in converting the eyesore property to a permanent home.

"We have done a ton of renovations," says Price, who co-founded Busy Brains in 2003. Major work has included a new roof for the 14,000-square-foot building at 130 Cedar Ave., and repair of seven enormous bowstring trusses that carry the load and allow for clear floor space.

  Heidi Alexander looks over the interior of the future permanent home of Busy Brains Children's Museum on Cedar Avenue in downtown Lake Villa. Paul Valade/

But that was just to make the building usable and set the stage for the next steps.

"It was great they inherited the building. The problem is everything needed to be fixed," village Administrator Karl Warwick said.

Concepts for the museum and its exhibits have been developed, but village approval to proceed was only recently granted.

"We have the permit to do the rehab - we're at a point we can actually do something," said Alexander, the director of operations. "Our next step is to basically 'white box' the space. Everything needs to come out."

This rendering showing the proposed permanent location of the Busy Brains Children's Museum in downtown Lake Villa. Courtesy of Busy Brains Children's Museum

Converting what was built as a horse-and-buggy dealership in the early 1900s will be pricey. The two women hope to be open by spring 2019, but the timing will depend on donations of cash, labor and materials.

"Every penny we got in is spent. We have very little money in the bank right now," Price said.

That adds pressure to raise $1.5 million to complete work on the building and exhibits for the first stage of the museum. Using the entire building is three to five years away at best and would require more fundraising.

"Most people have no clue how big this building is," Alexander said.

An old photo of the future Busy Brains Children's Museum building, center, hangs in the Metra station in downtown Lake Villa. Courtesy of the Village of Lake Villa

It is on the route of the popular St. Patrick's Day parade and for the first time on Saturday, March 17, will be open for tours.

Price and Alexander hope the progress will generate excitement and donations at the annual fundraiser at 7 p.m. Friday, April 13, at the Lehmann Mansion, 485 N. Milwaukee Ave. (Route 83) in Lake Villa. Visit

Busy Brains exhibits still are taken by trailer to parties, day care facilities and other locations. The nearest permanent children's museum operations are in Glenview, Milwaukee and Rockford, Price said.

"Our museum hasn't changed. The need hasn't changed in this area," she said.

This is a rendering of the future Busy Brains Children's Museum coming to downtown Lake Villa. Courtesy of Busy Brains Children's Museum

Village officials have a vested interest in the success of Busy Brains. The museum was given $50,000 for the roof, and it is considered a key to reviving the once thriving area.

"It absolutely could be and we feel it will be," Warwick said.

The village is continuing with streetscape improvements on both sides of Cedar Avenue and is providing a $1 million incentive to renovate the former Blackthorn Grille to an O'Toole's restaurant and to upgrade a nearby apartment building and home.

Busy Brains soon will stay in one spot

Fundraising under way for childrenÂ’s museum in Lake Villa

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