The giant cedar tree and cargo ship are in place. Murals depicting Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and other iconic Northwest images are on the walls. And a new bubbling brook spouts reclaimed water into a new interpretive stream in a public plaza set to open next week.
They’re all features in and around the new $18.5 million Hands On Children’s Museum, which is set to open in a little more than three months near Jefferson Street and Olympia Avenue by East Bay. The opening is scheduled for Veterans Day weekend, with a members-only day Nov. 10 and an opening to the public Nov. 11. The current museum, in rented quarters at 11th Avenue and Capitol Way, is set to close Sept. 4.
Executive Director Patty Belmonte’s excitement is palpable as she paces the halls, comparing the exhibits that workers are fabricating to a stack of maps showing the layout of the 28,000 square feet of space.
The cargo ship just arrived this week. Children will be able to climb on the ship, which sports real nautical features, such as portholes from the Port of Olympia, Belmonte said.
Beneath the ship, they’ll be able to explore an underwater world of barnacles, mussels, Dungeness crab and an octopus in a passageway.
“The kids can actually crawl through here,” Belmonte said.
The goal is to show children an underwater world they wouldn’t otherwise see, ultimately so that they’ll care about the Sound’s ecosystem. Docents will encourage children to imagine they’re a raindrop falling into the sea, thinking about all that they’ll pick up along the way.
It’s part of the museum’s biggest gallery, the Puget Sound Gallery. Upstairs there are many more, including Build It!, Our Fabulous Forest, The Pier and Snug Harbor. Children can walk through a nurse log and explore tree habitats amid a tank of live turtles.
At the center of the museum is a giant “climber” and slide, where children can climb up to an interpretive eagle’s nest on the second floor and slide down into the sound.
“It’ll be the showcase piece,” Belmonte said.
Another big exhibit is in the second-floor rotunda, where children can send Nerf balls up a maze of tubes, controlling them through bursts of air.
While the big kids are climbing on the big tower, toddlers will have a smaller climber nearby. There’s also an area that’s like a water bed for babies, Belmonte said.
She said the museum is targeted toward children from birth to 10 years old but will have activities geared toward older children, such as art projects. To that end, there’s a large art studio that can also be used for hands-on construction projects. Belmonte is calling it the “arts and parts studio.”
Outdoors, there’s another 30,000 feet of outdoor exhibit space that isn’t scheduled to open until June. There will be a giant sand pit and gravel pit “so you can make mud pies, that sort of thing,” Belmonte said.
There will be a hike-trike path on which children can ride industrial-size tricycles. And there will be a fire circle where children can gather for storytelling.
The museum is a partnership of several entities. The Port of Olympia sold the land to the City of Olympia for the project. The city built and owns the building and contributed $1 million toward it, in addition to $7.9 million in Public Facilities District dollars, money culled from sales taxes. The museum is raising the rest of the money and finishing the building with exhibits.
Berschauer Phillips of Olympia is constructing the inside of the building, as well as the 0.8-acre, $3.4 million public plaza next door. That is being jointly funded by the LOTT Clean Water Alliance and the city on land the Port of Olympia sold to LOTT for $1. The port is also contributing $30,000 for interpretive elements, according to a LOTT fact sheet.
The plaza, which is set to open Aug. 11, includes the flowing stream of reclaimed water with hard and landscaped surfaces, a small stage and a restroom building with a green roof.
Children can get in the water, Belmonte said.
The area also will be the new home of Sand in the City,
LOTT will manage the public plaza with assistance from the city, said LOTT spokeswoman Lisa Dennis-Perez.
“It’s really exciting that it’s finally come to fruition,” she said.