Driving east on Interstate 10 past the Dalrymple exit, the shell of the Knock Knock Children’s Museum finally is visible.
Ten years ago, it was a far-off dream. But the Knock Knock Children’s Museum’s building should be finished by the end of 2016, and the interactive learning zones that kids will play with inside will be installed shortly afterward.
Steel beams and columns go up nearly every day as a crane hangs over the museum’s future home atop a hill on Dalrymple Drive across from BREC’s City Park Golf Course and lakes.
“When you see it in person, you realize how big it is and how important it will be for Baton Rouge,” said Aza Bowlin, the museum’s board of directors chairwoman, about the 30,000-square-foot building.
Fundraising for the nonprofit museum has progressed since Bowlin and a team of other contributors broke ground in April 2015. Knock Knock leaders reported having about $9.4 million raised then, and now they are up to $11.6 million.
But six of the museum’s 18 planned learning zones still need sponsors. Each area has a different learning focus for children — for example, Associated Food Stores is sponsoring a mock pantry where children can grocery shop and Dow Chemical Co. is sponsoring a water feature to allow children to try their hands at fishing.
Among those that still need sponsors are a studio where children can dress up and perform in front of cameras and a story tree where kids can page through books about the topics that the learning zones emphasize.
Each of those learning zones is being built more than 500 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee. A group called 1220 that specializes in building exhibits will create them there, take them apart for the trip south and then put them back together once the museum is ready.
The museum’s foundation has been laid, along with the steel beams for a story book climber that Bowlin said she’s especially excited about. The story book climber will eventually be transformed into a climbing feature where children can crawl atop sturdy book pages as though they are ascending through stories.
Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker, whose district includes the museum, said the city-parish is making sure the museum will have sidewalks around it and a rear entrance to make it easier for the children who live in the neighborhood to visit.
“We’re really excited about that, and we want to make sure that walkability and connectivity to the museum is a priority,” Wicker said.
Bowlin said the museum board is still trying to determine the future costs to operate the museum. She said she expects that Knock Knock will have a budget of more than $1 million annually, but they still are working out many of the details.
Knock Knock’s operating costs will be covered through a combination of admission and membership fees — the prices for both of which have not been determined yet — in addition to event rentals and donations. Bowlin said they designed it with the idea that the museum would be rented out for meetings, banquets and possibly even weddings.
And with every square foot of concrete being poured, the museum’s leaders also have been trying to make sure that people know about the upcoming children’s museum and are getting excited for it. They engaged McKinley High School students in creating a phone app for the museum, and they visit groups of kids with a “rigamajig,” a series of large building blocks and materials, and an “imagination playground” of mobile playground blocks and toys.
The museum has been a long time coming. It gained a lot of momentum in 2010, when BREC became a partner and donated $3 million to the cause. The building had been set to break ground in 2014 before being delayed a few more times.
“Now we actually have a visible edifice that’s gonna be beautiful. I think it’s a win-win for the community and Baton Rouge as a whole,” Wicker said.