Walking into the new Children’s Imaginarium space for the first time definitely puts a word into one’s mouth: Wow.
And that’s the effect the Imaginarium’s founders are hoping it will have when the place opens up in early December.
The Central Wisconsin Children’s Imaginarium project is a dream Maggie Gordon and Tammy Szekeress have been chasing since at least 2015. Now eight years later there’s a physical manifestation of that dream in the middle of downtown.
The imaginarium is located in part of the HOM Furniture building, which gave up some of its space to downsize, allowing the imaginarium to move in.
The search for Children’s Imaginarium’s home
Finding a home wasn’t easy. Several locations, including the third floor of the library, the YWCA and even the Graebel building were considered at various stages, but one by one they didn’t work out. The library’s third floor, for example, wasn’t built to handle the exhibits of the imaginarium.
It took a long time to find the right spot, Gordon and Szekeress say, but it’s finally worth it. Large glass windows on the Imaginarium’s front overlook downtown, and the newly-extended Second Street passed by the side of the Imaginarium, allowing for nearby parking and easier downtown access, the first of several planned streets.
The mall’s demolition helped pave the way for the imaginarium, something that hadn’t happened when they first started working on the project.
The wow factor
Walking into the museum, it’s easy to see why it was worth the wait. Exhibits themed on Marathon county abound. A giant STEM tree full of science themed exhibits greets those following the reception area, creating and arch that shows off the many other exhibits, including a drip drop discovery with water themed play, including a little mini kayak race in which children can experiment with different weights and configurations to see what goes faster; a window-powered play exhibit with a balloon theme owing homage to Wausau’s balloon rally; and even a Farm to Fork market complete with a maple syrup creation exhibit.
This reporter remarked, after operating an exhibit that detonates Tetris-like blocks that children can then figure out how to reconstruct, that maybe adults would enjoy the exhibits too. Apparently that’s part of the plan, says Executive Director Julie Bollmann, who previously worked in administration at the Wausau School District. They plan on having events and birthday parties, but also will take bookings for companies who might want to do team building exercises at the Imaginarium.
And, Szekeress says, one thing they didn’t want to do is separate the exhibits for younger children and older – that puts caretakers in a rough spot if they have kids of multiple ages. So all the exhibits are in one room, making it much easier. The idea is for the exhibits to be accessible to all.
Gordon points out that the STEM tree has a section that needs to be climbed, which a child in a wheelchair wouldn’t be able to access. So there is a video screen allowing that child to see what is going on too.
And, Gordon says, it’s whey they wanted to be downtown. They wanted the museum to be accessible to all.
Another cool aspect is that many of the items are 3D printed, allowing them to replace items or add new items in house, Szekeress says. They will get the patterns from the exhibit supplier and be able to run them off in house when items need replacing.
The team at the Children’s Imaginarium are cagey about the exact date – work is still being done on the building though it looks mostly done, and construction can always come with unexpected delays.
But they’re pretty hopeful that the imaginarium will be open in early December, just in time for the holiday season.
After eight long years, they’re hopeful they can invite people inside the Imaginarium’s doors and have them say “wow.”