The number of visitors to Knock Knock Children’s Museum during its first year could fill Tiger Stadium two times over, shattering expectations and putting the museum on pace as one of Baton Rouge’s most-visited attractions.

More than 200,000 wide-eyed children and watchful parents and educators have visited the children’s museum since it opened one year ago. It took more than a decade of fundraising and planning for the cheerful, yellow museum to become a reality, but once it did, Baton Rouge residents and visitors were quick to embrace it. Museum leaders say they hope during their second year to include more opportunities for all children — especially those from impoverished communities and those who have learning disabilities.

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Before it opened, Executive Director Peter Olson expected the museum to fetch 189,000 visitors its first year, based on research from similarly sized cities. But at Knock Knock, it’s common for 1,000 visitors to come through on summer Saturdays, and the museum has averaged 3,000 visitors a week since schools let out.

“It just shows that it’s really something Baton Rouge needed,” said Cate Heroman, the museum’s board chair.

Based on those numbers, the museum has reached the upper echelons of Baton Rouge cultural attractions. The Baton Rouge Zoo, for example, had 218,000 visitors in 2016, while the Louisiana Art and Science Museum had 176,000 visitors that year, according to the Baton Rouge Area Foundation’s most recent CityStats report.

One of the Knock Knock museum’s most significant challenges was to accommodate that volume and ensure all types of visitors still enjoyed their experience, Olson said. Parking space became an immediate and visible need. Early visitors often needed to park at the nearby City-Brooks Community Park and hop on a shuttle over to the museum.

Reed Richard, the planning and engineering assistant superintendent for Baton Rouge’s recreation and parks agency, said BREC helped build more parking both behind the museum and along the hill. BREC and Knock Knock have a public-private partnership, and BREC donated the land and $3 million from a private BREC donor to build the museum. Both entities pitched in for the extra parking and lighting to go with it, Richard said.

Olson said the museum also hired extra staff and created “pop-up” programs to help disperse crowds at the museum’s busiest times. Staffers during those times will add activities like mosaic creation, fort building and bubble blowing in the museum’s lobby, backyard or other available space for extra options to keep other spaces from clogging up. Birthday parties at the museum have been so popular that they added time slots for people to sign up for them, and Olson said field trips have been frequent and the museum will do a better job spacing them out in the coming year.

Olson said he tries to hold 45 minutes of staff training every two weeks. The training sessions range from how to unveil new programs to how to respond to an active shooter threat.

Heroman said one especially helpful early training happened after an autistic child had a meltdown in the museum. Knock Knock staff started to receive instruction from the Emerge Center, which offers development for children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Heroman said experts at Emerge brought a group of preschoolers to the museum on a day when it was closed and coached museum staffers on how to interact with and support the autistic children.

The museum also recently hosted its first “sensory friendly” hours meant for children with autism or sensory processing problems. They will host another this month, in September and in October.

Olson said he wishes the museum could do more in the next year for children who might otherwise not be able to experience it. General admission costs $14 for all visitors above one year old.

The Dodge Family Fund is helping to underwrite reduced admission prices of $3 per person for families that present Louisiana Purchase Cards or electronic benefits transfer cards. More than 6,000 visitors in the past year have received the discounted admission prices, while each Head Start preschool class in the capital region received a free visit as well.

But Olson said he’d love to find a sponsor who could underwrite a free admission day for families who could not otherwise afford to visit. Heroman and the museum’s founders have repeatedly said it is critical for Baton Rouge’s children’s museum to offer opportunities for children whose families cannot afford for them to travel.

“Every child in the capital region has the right to the rich, rich benefits they get from unstructured play,” Olson said.

Admission prices alone, however, are not enough to keep the museum afloat. While those fees make up 60 percent of the museum’s $2.6 million operating budget, Olson said, the remaining 40 percent of the operating budget comes from philanthropy. Though BREC has pitched in through the partnership, the agency does not subsidize Knock Knock’s operating budget. And Olson said the museum's 2018 budget — run on a calendar year — has not reached the 40 percent threshold for philanthropy yet. 

Olson said he hopes the museum’s success during its first year will inspire more donors to come forward. Knock Knock will also host a week-long celebration starting Aug. 19 to celebrate its first birthday, with a members' only party, volunteer appreciation day, educator appreciation day and pop-up activities days. The culmination will be an all-day birthday party at the museum Aug. 26.

“It feels like we are turning one,” Olson said. “You think about a one year old, you’re transitioning from scooting and toddling to walking a bit. We’re finding our feet just like a one year old does. And now we’re going to go a little faster.”

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​