The annual "Celebration" fundraiser to benefit the Children’s Museum of St. Tammany is in its 10th year, and this year, there is extra cause to celebrate.
The Children’s Museum is set to hire its first director and special events coordinator and bring programs and interactive exhibits to Kids' Town, located at the Koop Drive Trailhead near Mandeville.
Kids' Town, a project of the Tammany Trace Foundation, will be an interim location for the Children’s Museum. The first building at Kids' Town is about 3,600 feet and will house educational exhibits and staff, while the nonprofit works toward building a permanent 30,000-square-foot museum.
“It will be a real operating children’s museum,” Lisa Barnett, president of the Children’s Museum of St. Tammany’s board of trustees, said, “And a snapshot of what is to come.” She said the original idea for the project was to build at Koop Drive.
Kids' Town is located next to the inclusive Kids Konnection playground, which attracts about 66,000 visitors a year.
“We’ve come full circle to Koop Drive” as a place to get started, she said. There are more than 100 applicants for both positions, and Barnett said they hope to hire, train and set up offices in Kids' Town in the next 60 days.
The Children’s Museum’s main fundraising event, "Celebration: Soaring Beyond Imagination," will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at the Castine Center, 63350 Pelican Drive in Mandeville. In addition to foods from 30 local restaurants, the event has a spotlight on St. Tammany youth.
"Chopped Junior" champions Emily Roche and Ella Petitto of Mandeville are the special guest chefs, and will cook on-site for the usually sold-out event. The Fontainebleau High School ProStart culinary program will also cook.
Entertainment will open with the Slidell High School Jazz Band, followed by musical guests, the Bucktown All-Stars.
The idea for a children’s museum in St. Tammany began in 2003 as a project of the Junior League of Greater Covington, Barnett said. The league did the initial research, but the project stalled after Hurricane Katrina.
The Junior League revived the project in 2007, when it assessed that there were more families with young people in the parish. The league held the first Celebration in 2008.
Reflecting on the 10 years since then, Barnett said it has “put the project into motion.”
“We felt the community would embrace it,” she said, and it has.
The project grew into an all-volunteer nonprofit organization with a 10-member board and 25-member advisory board. The Junior League formed community partnerships with the St. Tammany Parish Government and the St. Tammany Parish School System, and the Children’s Museum has been “invited to be at the Cultural Arts District planned at Pinnacle Park,” Barnett said.
Initial programming at Kids' Town will be aimed at early childhood and toddlers, with an emphasis on STEM, the arts and other interactive educational opportunities, she said. There will also be room at the Tammany Trace facilities to host events for older youth, such as robotics activities and concerts.
“It will allow us to get up and get running,” she said. It will accommodate some of the interactive exhibits from the final museum design. She said they have the 6-foot globe created by cartographer Bill Kiermaier, of Covington, which will be one of them. Among the offerings will be birthday parties, family events and camps this summer, and school field trips and events by the fall.
Once open, the organization will begin a feasibility study for a capital campaign for phased development for the final museum. The first phase will be about 13,000 square feet and cost up to $10 million, she said. The study will be to ensure that as much as possible, the first phase of brick-and-mortar construction will provide the quality needed to sustain the project.
Barnett said the Children’s Museum of St. Tammany is a member of the Association of Children’s Museums. According to the national organization, she said they are on track with what is typically a nine- to 12-year planning process.
“Everything the community has worked toward to bring the project to light we are committed to,” Barnett said.
Celebration has raised as much as $150,000 a year, which has been used to create exhibit designs, a business model, a website, marketing plan and to hire an architectural design firm. The building and interactive exhibits that have been envisioned may ultimately be located at the St. Tammany Parish’s Cultural Arts District, now in the development phase by the Tchefuncte River at the Pinnacle Parkway exit off Interstate 12 in Covington.
Popular features of the Celebration event include the Celebration’s Choice competition where guests vote on the participating restaurants showcase dish; the live and silent auctions; and a prize-filled balloon drop. Patrons can also go on a diamond dig, spin a prize wheel and play other games to benefit the museum.