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Construction continues on Children's Museum's new home

Within a few years of opening in its original location in La Jolla in 1983, San Diego Children's Museum/Museo de los Ninos was gaining national recognition for its innovative, hands-on approach to using art to creatively stimulate young minds and foster learning.

Outgrowing that space in 1993, the popular museum relocated to a downtown warehouse.

The warehouse was razed last spring and construction began on a new building designed by acclaimed architect Rob Wellington Quigley. With its striking appearance and energy-efficient "green" design, the 50,000-square-foot building located at Island Avenue and First Street will provide the museum with a home that perfectly complements its fun, smart and imaginative spirit.

"San Diego is a wonderful environment for this type of building," said Kay Wagner, executive director of the San Diego Children's Museum. "The museum will have high ceilings and be very open so kids can easily move about. We didn't want it to have a new museum feel, and we think Rob Quigley has accomplished that by making it look open and unfinished. The building itself will be a learning tool."

Among the many environmentally conscious elements incorporated in the design of the three-story building are a natural ventilation system that will eliminate the need for air conditioning and a sawtooth-roof structure mounted with solar panels that will generate much of the building's electricity. The roof will be supported by rows of tall, narrow clerestory windows.

On most days, these windows will provide enough light for the museum and its upper-level offices to avoid the need for additional lighting. Such forward-thinking features will enable the museum to dramatically reduce the energy a similar building without such enhancements would require.

The new museum will feature six indoor and two outdoor interactive galleries and an expansive 1,920-square-foot studio where children can dive into a range of activities, from painting to building. The studio will also include a large area specifically designed for those who wish to work with clay and create three-dimensional art.

"Everything will be focused on hands-on art," Wagner explained. "You could come here every day for a week and not have to do the same thing twice. We think art should be something alive that you get interested and involved in."

Other highlights of the new museum include an interior atrium with an entrance bridge, additional studio space for resident and visiting artists, two birthday rooms, a theater, a caf? and a park.

Located directly in front of the museum, the public park will feature interactive works of art and provide an inviting place where museum visitors and others can play or picnic. Designed by Spurlock-Poirier, the same firm that designed the gardens at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the park promises to be a fun and whimsical extension of the museum as well as an enhancement to downtown in its own right.

Construction on the new San Diego Children's Museum/Museo de los Ninos, designed by Rob Wellington Quigley, began last spring.

The new museum will welcome back old favorites, including the 1952 Dodge "paint" Truck, Cora's Rain House and the Double Decker Book Bus. And it will afford the Museum School -- an arts-oriented charter elementary school -- with more space in its new home on the ground floor of the building.

As always, activities and exhibits will be geared primarily to children ranging from toddlers to 12-year-olds. But older kids and adults will find plenty of activities to engage in as well. Teenagers, for example, will have the chance to participate in the planning and execution of special exhibits.

According to Wagner, the old museum welcomed about 500 school children a day from San Diego and other areas. She anticipates serving about 1,000 youth a day in the new museum. Its prime location, close to the convention center, ballpark, Horton Plaza and trolley station, should help make it a popular attraction for both locals and tourists.

In addition to providing a creatively enriching and educational destination, the museum's unique architectural design will enhance the community, both aesthetically and as a model of sustainable civic architecture.

If fund-raising efforts go according to plan, the new museum will open late next year. But generating the additional $8 million of the total $27 million cost of the museum is proving to be a significant challenge for administrators. Even though they regularly hold successful fund-raising events, Wagner said the money generated by these events alone won't be enough to help them meet their goal.

"Because we have such a good reputation locally and nationally, it's been disappointing that the community is not getting behind us as much as we'd hoped," Wagner said. "We need to raise $5 million dollars in the next six or seven months, and we've got a way to go."

Ideally, Wagner would like to see individuals or corporations -- such as a toy store or a child or family-oriented restaurant -- step in and sponsor the restaurant, gift shop or another part of the museum. Without such support, it is unlikely the museum will be able to raise the necessary funds in time to complete construction by next fall. The Centre City Development Corp. (CCDC), the city of San Diego's development agency, would then have the option to buy back the land it sold to the museum for $4.8 million for $1. Construction of the museum could be delayed, or worse yet, halted indefinitely.

For more information, visit www.sdchildrensmuseum.org.

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