July 10--PEORIA -- Construction is scheduled to begin on the Peoria PlayHouse Children's Museum more than 10 years since the idea took root.
The Peoria Park Board on Wednesday night approved a $2.5 million construction bid from River City Construction to convert the Glen Oak Pavilion into an interactive museum aimed at the community's youngest learners.
"We are going to start knocking down walls, and we are hoping that by May, June we'll have our doors open," said Brenda O'Russa, development director for the Peoria Zoological Society.
Construction is expected to begin next week following a ceremonial ground breaking on July 15 and originally was expected to last 12 months.
A separate bid of $1.6 million was awarded in March for pieces of the six exhibits, so part of the project is well underway.
The longstanding effort by the Power of Play Campaign, a partnership forged between the Junior League of Peoria, the Peoria Zoological Society and the Peoria Park District, came to fruition after a strong fundraising push in 2014 toward the goal of $8 million.
The effort today is at more than 97 percent of that value, lacking about $150,000 to cover projected costs.
"At the beginning of the year, we were at about 80 percent," said Emily Cahill, assistant to the executive director of parks and recreation, "and I think that's in part because people see that this is really going to happen."
"This is a place where you can unplug, where you're forced to use your brain and your hands and your social skills," Cahill said. "It creates such an opportunity for kids to be engaged and be inspired."
The project's construction closely follows the park district administration's move from Glen Oak Pavilion to Lakeview Park and the creation of Rotary Adventure Grove, a bug-themed interactive exhibit that spans the space between the pavilion and Peoria Zoo, scheduled to open next month.
"That's the place that really pulls the entire place together as a daylong destination in Glen Oak Park," park district Executive Director Bonnie Noble said.
Museum plans include exhibits on construction, rivers, farming and local history along with a "Motion Commotion" exhibit on child-level physics and a sand porch for digging, building and sculpting.
"It's going to be a really, really fun place to play, but it's also grounded in the things that kids need to learn to be ready for school," Cahill said.
The museum will be unique in Peoria in that it's a true children's museum aimed at ages up to 8 and incorporates early learning standards, and in its proximity to Peoria Zoo, which attracts 200,000 annually.
- Laura Nightengale can be reached at 686-3181 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauranight.
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