Oxford plans to open a children’s museum near the Oxford Performing Arts Center, though the location and timeline are still uncertain.
John Longshore, executive director of OPAC, made a presentation to the City Council Tuesday night during which he revealed an artist’s rendering of the tentatively-named Alabama Children’s Museum. The brick building stands three stories tall, with a massive glass front to reveal exhibits from the outside. A massive leapfrog, the museum’s mascot, sits on the side of the building.
“The goal is to create a safe, family-friendly environment for children to learn, explore and play — which spells LEAP,” Longshore explained to the council.
Longshore said by phone Wednesday that the building, which will be between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet, is expected to cost between $10 million and $12 million. Featured exhibits might cover things like the RMS Titanic, animatronic dinosaurs or Clifford the Big Red Dog, he said, along with stations such as mock banks and grocery stores, where kids can learn about jobs, commerce and money management. The top floor will have a school for the arts and rooms for birthday parties.
The city is working with the Community Foundation of Northeast Alabama to raise $2 million for a groundbreaking; about $150,000 has been raised in the first week of that campaign, Longshore said. Work can start after the campaign ends.
There are three potential locations, he said, all within walking distance of OPAC. He declined to identify the properties because they are still privately owned.
Longshore said the plan is to encourage community ownership beyond Oxford’s city limits, which is part of the inspiration for the museum’s regional, all-encompassing name.
“By the very nature of this we want people to have ownership in the broad community, and that doesn’t just mean Oxford buy-in,” Longshore said. “We hope people can see the value even beyond those borders.”
That value is visible in a few ways, he said.
Families won’t need to travel to Birmingham or Atlanta to visit a children’s museum any more, he said. Schools will be able to plan day trips around local cultural features, like OPAC’s theater, which is being upgraded to show educational, 3D films, or the Anniston Museum of Natural History, which Longshore said he wants to build a strong relationship with.
OPAC brings about 150,000 visitors to the city each year, Longshore said, and estimates for the new museum show it bringing in at least that many visitors annually, after the first three to five years. Many of the OPAC visitors arrive in the evening, he said, but the children’s museum should see most of its traffic during the day.
“Those people need to have somewhere to eat and spend the night and shop,” Longshore said.