The location of the much-anticipated Region Five Children’s Museum previously set for Brainerd’s Lum Park may now be up in the air.
Brainerd city officials and Region Five representatives signed a letter of intent earlier this year to house the proposed educational facility in the northeast Brainerd park near Rice Lake.
The project idea came up in 2015, when Sourcewell came forth with the idea that many children’s programs within the Region Five area of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties could all be worked into a children’s museum. Sourcewell then established a planning group that worked alongside the community to develop the idea and come up with a master plan.
The goal of the museum is to bring children and families together and provide dynamic exhibits and programs to engage children in a unique learning experience. Six indoor and outdoor exhibit areas are proposed to include activities and learning experiences related to lake fishing, gardening and growing one's own food, woodland exploration, travel and other recreational themes.
The city proposed Lum Park as a potential location with its waterfront property and ample outdoor recreation space. The original proposal stated staff would soon vacate the existing office and maintenance facilities in the park, making them available for repurposing or removal for new construction. Parks and recreation administrative staff moved into a remodeled city hall this year, while the parks maintenance crew moved to the city’s street department maintenance garage on Thiesse Road.
Sites in Baxter, Pequot Lakes and Pine River were also proposed for the museum last year.
After signing the letter of intent, the master planning process began with the creation of a children’s museum task force with the following members: Mayor Dave Badeaux; council member Jan Lambert; Parks Board Vice Chair Kevin Yeager; planning commission member Don Gorham; Economic Development Authority member Yvette Campbell (later replaced by Jerry Sinner and Mike O’Day); Region Five Children’s museum representatives Paul Drange, Peter Olson and Jim Roe; and community representatives Mandy Dens, Cynthia Askerooth-Olson and Shane Riffle.
Parks board and council members now worry about discussion at the last task force meeting indicating those from Region Five do not want to use the existing park buildings but instead place the museum farther in the property, potentially disrupting the park’s current layout.
Four design layouts created by Widseth show two options using the original parks buildings (B and D) and two options building new facilities elsewhere in the park (A and C), with C also proposing the reconfiguration of the campground. Representatives from the children’s museum support A and C, while city council and parks board members support B and D.
“From the very first meeting, not only did the mayor speak clearly and in plain speaking to the members of the children’s museum that the space that the council would like to see the buildings located was in the basic proximity of where the current parks department buildings are, but also the parks department — or the parks board — felt very much the same way,” Yeager said Monday. “... As the task force was formed, what I can tell you is that virtually instantly, there was resistance to that.”
That’s when the group decided to explore various design options, and the four proposals were brought forth. But the parks board, Yeager added, agreed any options outside of the general vicinity of the current buildings would be too disruptive to Lum Park.
“And while we are supporters of the museum 100% and we’d like to see it, we just had concerns, voiced those concerns early and sustain the opinion that our concerns are valid,” he said.
By the end of the last task force meeting, Mayor Badeaux said he felt like there was no point in vocalizing his objections any further, as minds seemed to have been made up.
The proposed action before the council Monday night was to sever the city’s relationship with Region Five, effectively ending the possibility of a children’s museum in Lum Park. That recommendation came from the parks board, which discussed the issue in a meeting the previous week. Council members, however, felt that was too drastic of a step to take at this point.
“I just think we really need to think about this before we go too much further on severing ties,” council member Lambert said.
Council member Dave Pritschet agreed but also pointed out the parks board is ultimately the entity in charge of the parks.
“I think we were pretty up front with where we wanted the museum to be in our earlier discussions,” Pritschet said. “I don’t know if this is the case, but it almost seemed like any dissent was kind of railroaded in a specific direction, and I don’t like when people come to meetings with an agenda that they’re going to force and not listen to dissent. So hopefully that’s not the case and they’ll be open to maybe discussing and coming up with something else. But practically, if the they come up with something that they park board doesn’t want, we could totally disagree with the park board, but the park board could still stay, ‘Nope, not going there.’”
Pritschet said the council’s job is both to support city staff as well as the community and hopes further discussion can propel the two groups now at odds into some sort of an agreement.
With Widseth already advised to create a new design of what a combination of options A and C might look like for the next task force meeting, council members agreed not to take any action yet and revisit the issue at its next meeting when the new design is in.
Hearing from Region Five
During a phone interview Friday, Nov. 6, Children’s Museum Project Director Peter Olson, also a task force member, said Region Five’s focus has always been to put the museum in a spot that’s most beneficial to the children it would serve. And his understanding, he said, was always that the task force was set up to go through the master planning process and determine the best spot within Lum Park.
“The children’s museum is fully committed to following the site master planning process that has been going on with the community-based task force, and our objective behind this was to understand how placing the children’s museum can best support children’s learning and development,” Olson said. “So our No. 1 goal for wherever the children’s museum ends up, is that it’s the best place possible for kids.”
When asked about the idea of placing the museum farther in the park, Olson said the group has explored numerous possibilities but ultimately wants to put it where children would have the best direct connection to nature.
“I’d venture to imagine that from the city’s perspective, from the parks board’s perspective … that they have a lot of various interests to manage, and that’s understandable,” he said. “But the children’s museum has been and continues to be a good faith partner to seeing if something can be worked out.”
But no matter what happens with the Lum Park location, the museum effort will continue.
“The children’s museum has momentum behind it,” Olson said. “And while we have a lot of work to do, there will be a children’s museum in north central Minnesota.”