A 14-year wait is over — almost.
The Children’s Museum of St. Tammany, which began as a project of the Junior League of Greater Covington way back in 2003, opened its doors to the public for the first time on July 17 when it hosted a summer camp for fifth- through seventh-grade students.
The gathering, which was called "Astro Camp" and was an element of the NASA Out of School Learning Network, provided a sneak peek at the long-awaited museum.
It’s located in an area being called “Kids Town” at the end of Koop Drive near the St. Tammany Parish government headquarters and the main trailhead of the Tammany Trace.
Museum officials are hoping to have a grand opening in September. Meanwhile, though, the Astro Camp was reason in itself for them to celebrate. It meant the facility was finally operational, after years of hard work and fundraising.
“It’s such a special day,” said Amy Fresh, who was named the Children's Museum director earlier this year. “The motto for our capital campaign has been ‘The Power of Play.’ Seeing the children here today shows that the possibilities here are endless. We want them to make memories here.”
Another Astro Camp for younger children will be held this week.
The dozen children attending the first week of Astro Camp certainly did their part to make the memories Fresh mentioned.
The camp had as its theme “Next Generation to Mars: Full Steam Ahead!” and hands-on activities were the focus.
The projects the campers worked on through the week highlighted STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills, and there was a healthy dose of creative play sprinkled throughout the week, as well.
The history of space flight was explored along with the solar system, the International Space Station and the upcoming solar eclipse. The kids even enjoyed a live video conference with a NASA astronaut.
The Children’s Museum, a 3,000-square-foot building behind a patch of freshly planted green grass, sits next to a wide, covered pavilion. Inside is a large room that will be used for arts and crafts, theater, birthday party rentals and other events.
Several other large rooms connect to spaces that will house permanent exhibits. Items such as a magnetic water wall, high-end building block sets, globes and more are meant to spark STEM skills.
“It’s (going to be) kids learning outside the classroom, and that’s our goal,” Fresh said. “We’re an extension of their traditional learning.”
Though the museum has not yet had its grand opening, officials already are looking ahead. Their long-term goal is to build a 30,000-square-foot building in the "cultural arts district" adjacent to the Colonial/Pinnacle retail property at the intersection of Interstate 12 and La. 21.
Fresh said the Children’s Museum board of trustees would like to open that new facility within three to five years; fundraising for it is ongoing.
The current museum building on Koop Drive is being leased from the parish and the Tammany Trace Foundation, Fresh said.
The Children's Museum of St. Tammany received 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in 2011. Its board of trustees works with a community advisory board to oversee day-to-day management of the project.
A master plan for the projected site of the permanent building was designed by the local architectural firm of Fauntleroy Lathan Weldon and Barré.
The Children’s Museum is the signature project of the Junior League of Greater Covington and is a community partner of the parish and the St. Tammany Parish Public School System.
Check www.cmstkids.org for information on the museum's opening date, hours, ticket prices, memberships and more as it becomes available.