ALBION, Mich. (AP) — A mother and her 4-year-old son waited patiently for Kid ‘N’ Stuff Children’s Museum to open on a chilly fall afternoon.

Upon walking through doors decorated with cartoon children, Hudson Coblentz pretended to shop in the museum’s play Felpausch grocery store before making his way to a 15-foot-high wall of tubing, where he was greeted by Kids ‘N’ Stuff Executive Director Mike Boudro.

“That’s the air wall,” Boudro explained. “If the ball doesn’t go all the way through, push the doors shut.”

Nearby, a crew finished assembling a new water table that arrived as a result of a $125,000 fundraising campaign, the Battle Creek Enquirer reports. The unveiling of the water table was a celebratory moment for downtown Albion’s children’s museum, which went dark twice during the pandemic.

When the COVID-19 outbreak occurred, it had not yet been determined that respiratory droplets are the primary mode of transmission for the virus. While contact surfaces still carry a lower risk of transmission, there were initial fears that hands-on museums were in for a bleak future.

As the pandemic lingers, Kid ‘N’ Stuff continues to navigate some challenges, led by Boudro, who joined in May. Masks are required for all guests and play areas are regularly cleaned and sanitized.

“A lot of the time I’m a one-man show,” Boudro said. “It’s typically nothing I can’t handle. Some days are crazier than others. But it’s a children’s museum, which are naturally chaotic.”

Kid ‘N’ Stuff was founded by Rebecca Mitchell, wife of former Albion College President Peter Mitchell, and incorporated in 2000. Following a $600,000 capital campaign, it officially opened in September 2020 at the old JCPenney building after the building was donated by Albion College. Aside from general support, the college does not have a financial connection to the museum.

According to the Association of Children’s Museums, Kids ‘N’ Stuff is one of 10 children’s museums spread out across Michigan. The nearest are the Impression 5 Science Center in Lansing, Curious Kids Museum in St. Joseph and the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum. In Calhoun County, Kids ‘N’ Stuff is helping to fill the void as Battle Creek’s Kingman Museum of natural history and world cultures is currently looking for a new home.

Kids ‘N’ Stuff was shut down as a non-essential business at the onset of the pandemic and laid off its small workforce, while the board continued to maintain systems at the conjoined buildings. The museum reopened to the public in June 2020, but attendance lagged, so the board decided in August for the building to “hibernate” until reopening June 26 this year.

“People were comfortable being outside, and not yet comfortable being inside,” said Caroline Hurteau, vice chair of the board. “So the board made a very challenging decision to enter into hibernation.”

Since reopening for a second time, the museum has seen an uptick in attendance, including birthday parties and class field trips.

Hurteau said that some of the fiscal challenges impacted by the pandemic meant increasing the price of admission, now at $7 per person, though the nonprofit offers discounted admission of $1.50 for people receiving public assistance such as an EBT or Bridge card as well as members of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi.

“We want to make sure that the cost of the museum isn’t the barrier for people coming in,” Boudro said. “Museums are for everyone and fun is for everyone. So come in and play.”

Among other changes, the Kids ‘N’ Stuff board is currently seeking candidates to join in January. Hurteau said it’s an exciting time for the museum as it looks to continue to play a role in the momentum of downtown Albion’s ongoing redevelopment.

“We’re heading into what I feel is a resurgence of the museum,” Hurteau said. “We’ve made it 20 years, and what can our next 20 years be? It would be a real loss to Albion and to the greater region if Kids ‘N’ Stuff ceased to exist. And, from a personal perspective regarding the other work I’m involved in here in town, Kids ‘N’ Stuff was the first place to put its stake in downtown Albion in that they committed to taking a vacant building 20 years ago and spent many years being the only thing in downtown Albion.”

The water table was paid for in part through a matching $37,500 grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs that was awarded in the fall of 2019, followed by funding provided by a team of local philanthropists and foundations. After some delays due to supply chain issues, the water attraction is finally ready for youngsters to explore and enjoy.

“We’ve waited long enough for this water table,” Bourdo said. “It’s time for us to sit down and play with it.”


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