Discovery museum

Families, children, discover a preview of the Children’s Discovery Museum in Waterville

WATERVILLE – Bella Loubier, 10, pedaled the Blender bike, got off and let her little brother, Gabe, 6, take over.

A blender containing bananas, frozen strawberries and water attached to the bike’s rear fender swirled as he pedaled, producing a veritable smoothie.

“I think it’s very good for a kid’s body because he works out, and after the workout he gets a nice healthy smoothie,” Bella said.

She and her brother were on the lawn of the future Children’s Discovery Museum at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 7 Eustis Parkway as part of the museum’s Sneak Peek open house event Thursday night. Dozens of children and adults enjoyed the exhibits and received updates on the museum’s plans to purchase and move into the church building in 2020.

Children smashed pieces on a colorful Lego board, moved magnetic wheels on a steel wall, painted in acrylics on an easel and placed colorful scarves in a wind tunnel and watched them fly from above while other children were catching.

“All these little pop-up signs that we have, we call them our mobile museum,” said Amarinda Keys, the museum’s executive director. “These are activity stations that we bring to special events. It’s our way of bringing children’s programming to this region ahead of the opening of our exhibit space.

Penelope Graham, 10, reflected in concave and convex lenses on Thursday while visiting the Children’s Discovery Museum in Waterville. Morning Watchman photo by Michael G. Seamans

The museum exhibits that will be in the future home are currently being designed by Field Magnet, of Portland, according to Keys.

The current museum located at 171 Capitol St. in Augusta features interactive exhibits and hands-on programs designed to spark children’s curiosity and celebrate learning through play.

In July, the museum began renting the Waterville Church sanctuary and hall to be used this fall for birthday parties. Keys said information will be released soon on how people can plan parties.

As the children ran around on the grass Thursday and played with the exhibits, Keys said it was exciting to see them, both inside and outside the building.

“It’s the children who bring it to life,” she said. “It was just an empty room and an empty lawn.”

Museum board member Rich Bryant led a tour of the exhibits, explaining that they allow children to interact, explore, play and use their imaginations.

Meg Loubier, chair of the museum’s board of trustees and mother of Bella and Gabe Loubier, was one of the speakers on Thursday.

“Our mission is to spark curiosity and celebrate learning through play,” she said.

She said the museum’s fundraising campaign was ongoing and gaining momentum.

Augustus F. Graham, 11, gives a tour of the Children’s Discovery Museum to members of the public Thursday in Waterville. Morning Watchman photo by Michael G. Seamans

Erin Merrill, director of development for Educare, an early learning center on Drummond Avenue next to George J. Mitchell School, also spoke. Later, she explained how enthusiastic she and others at Educare were about the museum.

“It’s one of those resources that you dream of being in your community and the fact that it’s up the hill — we couldn’t have chosen a better location, better organization, better leader, in Amarinda. We are excited to see how we can enrich the lives of children in our communities and parents.

Merrill said the church location is accessible and Educare children will love learning and exploring there. Children attending Educare range in age from six weeks to kindergarten age.

“It’s exciting to see Waterville really become this educational hub, from six weeks at Thomas and Colby Colleges and Kennebec Valley Community College,” Merrill said. “It’s exciting to see the community rallying around education.

Kim Nashed and her partner, John Parsons, will be offering a series of adult yoga and meditation classes for beginners and all skill levels at the museum, with the first classes from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 4. and from 3:45 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday, September 9. Parsons said his grandparents helped build the church many years ago and he and Nashed were very proud to be part of the museum enterprise.

Augustus F. Graham, 11, gives a tour of the Children’s Discovery Museum to members of the public Thursday in Waterville. Morning Watchman photo by Michael G. Seamans

Christa Johnson, director of the 83-year-old Snow Pond Center for the Arts, will also offer music lessons for people of all ages starting this fall.

Keys remembers seeing the museum for the first time in 2012 and falling in love with the concept before being hired there. She had a vision of what it could be like in the future, with bigger space and more offerings.

“It was a magical little place, and it still is,” she said.

Meanwhile, Bella Loubier led a tour inside the church building where the sanctuary has been gutted in preparation for museum exhibits. Looking at the plans for the museum, she talked about some of the offerings that will be in the shrine space:

“There’s going to be an enchanted forest, a building zone, a water zone, a town zone, a mountain path, a mill zone, a rural zone, and a cave,” she said.

She and Keys walked into the birthday party room, which featured cool yellow, gray and blue walls with blue bubbles painted on cabinets.

“I helped paint this wall,” Bella said, pointing to a gray wall near the door.

The Waterville City Council voted in January to rezone the church property from Residential-B to Contract Zoned District/Commercial-A to allow the museum to locate there. The condition of the contract area is that the only permitted uses of the property are a children’s museum, a day care center and the existing church.

The Children’s Museum has existed for 26 years.

The 14,000-square-foot church has about 125 members, its pastor, Mark Wilson, said last year. It was built in 1966. Before that it stood on Temple Street for 160 years, behind the present Colby College residential complex. Some current church members also attended Temple Street Church, which was demolished as part of urban renewal efforts many years ago. Church officials plan to keep the church alive and hope to move to another location in Waterville when the museum takes over the space.

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