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HomeNewsLocal newsChildren's Museum Will Open in Charlotte Amalie Landmark in March

Children’s Museum Will Open in Charlotte Amalie Landmark in March

Sarah Hughes stands on the Grand Galleria gallery overlooking Emancipation Garden.Science, art, wonder and imagination will reinvigorate the old Grand Galleria Hotel in the heart of Charlotte Amalie come March, as the second floor of the stately structure becomes home to the Virgin Islands Children’s Museum.

The museum is the soon-to-be realized dream of two people who have decided on an exciting and ambitious project for the community – Sarah Hughes, executive director, and Sarah Erickson, director of development and curator. For the past two years the women have dedicated all their time, after their regular jobs, to the project. Hughes manages Scoops & Brew in the Crown Bay Marina and Erickson works for a St. Thomas accounting firm.

The two women said recently they had been scouting locations for months when they came across the Lockhart family’s Grand Galleria.

"The Lockhart family has been supportive from the very first conversation,” Hughes said. "They gave us very favorable terms.”

The Galleria is steeped in history. Local historian Ronald Lockhart, president of the St. Thomas Historical Trust, shared a bit of that history this week. (Lockhart is a member of the Lockhart family but not part of the realty group.)

"The restaurant on the second floor gallery was the favorite gathering place for the island’s business, legal and social community during the ’60s and ’70s,” Lockhart said. "It was where Petsey Powell most famously held forth with Nibbs, her bartender of many years. I can’t remember all the names now; I do know attorney Fred Rosenberg was one of the regulars. It was the place to be.”

On a recent tour of the premises, Hughes said there will be two classrooms in an adjacent building for after-school programs, summer discovery camps and a destination for field trips where educators can incorporate lesson plans.

The tour is a bit like going down the rabbit hole after Alice. Hughes’ knowledge and enthusiasm led one to marvel at each turn, as it became apparent just what can be done with perseverance, dedication, imagination and more than a little risk-taking and a fully developed sense of adventure.

The museum will occupy the entire 8,200 or so square feet of the second floor of the Galleria, and every square inch of the space has been carefully structured to accommodate each of the 14 exhibits, which range from a giant xylophone to a hand-crank internal combustion engine to Leonardo da Vinci’s Flying Bike Pedalling Wonder machine, which is but the tip of the iceberg.

The Galleria is huge. The room surrounds a magnificent center staircase with lots of light pouring in through the tall windows.

"Now this,” she said, "is the Inclined Plane. It’s a beautifully simple exhibit designed to show visitors the power of possibility. There will be a large, flat surface higher at one end than the other and a variety of objects the visitor can experiment with to see which ones go down the fastest and how the inclination is helpful when using weight versus gravity.”

Then there’s the Escape Velocity Launch Rocket Stomp. Escape velocity is the speed at which an object must travel to break free from a planet or the moon’s gravitational pull. This allows visitors to try their strength by stomping on a pump and watching the rocket rise on the wall.

The daVinci Bike exhibit will feature a sent of da Vinci’s famous wing models, the starting point for the the creation of planes and helicopters. A pedal bicycle will be situated in front of a projection screen that will show a series of clips about the visual history of flying machines. When the visitor pedals to the top of the ramp, the video perspective will change to the point of view of being aloft.

In what used to be the old Galleria’s kitchen will be the Music and Light Spectrum Spectacular, with an assortment of exhibits where visitors can play with light and music It will feature a light table with transparent building blocks.

The gallery overlooking Emancipation Garden will be home of the Kid’s Café, gift shop and Coffee Cart.

The museum will offer after-school educational programs, summer discover camps featuring a science or technology themes, and free family fun nights to attract new visitors. The goal is to create an environment that fosters explorative learning and a lifelong passion for seeking knowledge.

"It will be a resource for children, parents, teachers and the community,” said Hughes.

Hughes, who has lived on the island for several years, had lamented the lack of things for local youngsters to do.

"It really bothered me,” she said. "Though St. Thomas is my home, I was in the states for a while and I realized how many opportunities those children have and how few we have here. I’ve visited many children’s museums – there are 338 in the states – and I saw what a perfect opportunity this could be for the island.”

"We began this museum as a labor of love,” she said. "We looked at how few fun, educational opportunities there are for V.I. children and their families and caregivers. And we looked at the staggering statistics out there on the state of education in the territory. We decided to do something about it. We decided we would build a place for the community to come together to cherish our most precious resource, our children.”

According to the V.I. Dept. of Education, 34 percent of the territory’s children entering public kindergarten lack age-appropriate cognition skills and 50 percent lack age-appropriate word and comprehension skills. Proficiency rates in math, reading and science hover around 50 percent in grades 3-11 in public schools.

Children who do not participate in early childhood education are 70 percent more likely to commit a violent crime and be imprisoned, 25 percent more likely to drop out of school, and 40 percent more likely to become a teen parent.

It is an ambitious project – "ambitious but feasible,” Hughes said. She and Erickson have done their homework. Erickson has a background in finance. Hughes, who has a business background, said their budget projections fit into those for the local population. "It’s scaled to fit,” she said. She is looking at $108,000.

Hughes said they have partnered with the Department of Education. The insular superintendent for the DOE St. Thomas/St. John District has pledged the Department’s support. She said in a July letter that the department looks forward to "incorporating the Museum’s interactive materials into the classroom following each field trip experience.”

Financing for the project has come from grants, volunteers helping, sponsors and on-line fundraising. Hughes said it will be "$108,000 for the build-out.”

Fundraising is an ongoing process. For the next, final two weeks, contribution can be made at the crowd-funding website Indiegogo here. The museum is also on Facebook here, and at its own website here.

Sustaining financing will be not only through the generous support of sponsors and grants, but through revenue generated by admissions, memberships, an indoor play park, a gift shop a coffee cart and kid’s café, and educational programs. Hughes said the Museum will be staffed mainly by volunteers, with a small paid staff.

Admission will be $8, with those younger than two admitted free. Membership for a family of four is $150 annually.

Sponsors include MSI Building Supplies – Hughes said MSI was very helpful with the build-out. Marriott Frenchman’s Reef has offered complimentary rooms for visiting consultants. Hughes said St. Thomas Cargo has given them generous shipping rates, and Scoops and Brew supplies goodies to the Kid’s Cafe. V.I. Coffee Roasters supplies the coffee cart.

Hughes can be reached at 340-643-0366. 

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