After receiving the results of a feasibility study on the idea of creating a science museum or discovery center in Joplin, a group of volunteers pursuing the effort will go forward this fall with their next steps.

Co-chairs of the Creative Learning Alliance, Shelly Kraft and Audie Dennis, outlined some of the findings in that feasibility study before the Joplin City Council on Monday night.

Kraft said the museum idea came from community planning sessions held in 2017 called Vision Joplin 2022. Vision Joplin took input from residents on things they would like to have in Joplin and ways they believe the city could grow. Among the topics of those talks were quality of life improvements that could be made and building some kind of destination attraction.

"One of the things we decided we would really like to have, and when I say 'we,' I mean the community members (of Vision Joplin) ... was some kind of science center or discovery center in our area," said co-chair Shelly Kraft.

After the Vision Joplin strategic planning sessions ended, a group of interested volunteers continued to meet on that idea. That group has now grown to 75 and has been identifying and taking steps members hope will lead to being able to establish a museum within the next few years.

Gaining 'STEAM'

Those working on the project envision the museum as an interactive, hands-on learning experience for families and children. It would focus on STEAM learning, an acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and math, Kraft said.

"A few benefits of this style of learning is that children will learn to think out of the box, feel safe to express innovative and creative ideas, feel comfortable doing hands-on learning, take ownership over their own learning and work collaboratively with others," Kraft said.

The goal is to create a popular attraction that people would keep coming back to for repeat visits. Possible themes, many reflecting regional interests, could be geology and mining, Route 66, agriculture, weather and the living world.

That feasibility study, conducted for the group by ConsultEcon Inc., of Cambridge, Massachusetts, looked at how such museums are established and funded, whether the area could support one and potential locations.

"Joplin and the region have relatively few indoor family-oriented attractions, particularly those that emphasize learning through play," the report states.

A discovery center or science museum would provide an opportunity for parents, schools and other organizations to bring children for a stimulating experience that offers hands-on activities.

There would be permanent exhibits as well as a gallery devoted to changing exhibits to encourage repeat visits.

Market reach

The attraction's market focus are those who live within a 45-minute drive of Joplin, which has an estimated population of 287,900. About 67,000 children live in that market, which has a growth rate in that population projected at 2.5% by 2023.

While the report said there are limited statistics available for tourism numbers in Joplin, the consultant believes about 250,000 visit annually and stay in Joplin.

The museum has a potential draw of 68,000 to 91,000 people a year after it gets established and has been open three or four years. Peak periods would bring an estimated 170 to 210 visitors a day, the report predicts. That would require 69 to 84 parking spaces to accommodate those visitors as well as about 25 for museum staff and its volunteers.

An operating budget is estimated at more than $1.3 million. Revenue earnings are potentially about $716,000 from admissions, gift shop sales, memberships, day camp use, after school programming and birthday parties. Income could be subsidized with other sources such as gifts, grants, endowments and in-kind gifts.

A museum the size recommended for Joplin would be staffed with 11 full-time and 20 part-time positions.

An important consideration is the selection of a museum site.

"Selecting a site will have implications for how the community and regional visitors/tourists, interact with the discovery center and, ultimately, with Joplin and the region as a whole," the study states.

Possible locations

Six potential locations are identified that the consultant feels would be suitable:

• Downtown where an existing building could be adapted to museum use.

• The former Union Depot.

• Near the Joplin Public Library on East 20th Street.

• In the area of Interstate 44 and Range Line Road.

• Near Interstate 44 and South Main Street, the former Hearnes Boulevard.

• In the area of Mercy Park.

"The market potential and community benefits of the discovery center will greatly benefit from a synergistic relationship with its surroundings and nearby land uses, which is why proximity to established cultural or community facilities is an important location criterion. For instance, families often visit parks, libraries, conservation areas and arts organizations together," the report states.

Next steps

Audie Dennis, the other co-chair of the alliance, said the organization has now obtained its 501c3 status.

Now that the nonprofit status is in place and the feasibility report is done, "the alliance board will hold a retreat in September to develop a concrete plan for the steps needed and the timeline for the project from now until the opening of the museum. This timeline will be somewhat fluid, of course, as the dynamics change, but it will serve as a guide going forward," Dennis said.

The alliance also plans to begin an outreach campaign to local organizations, companies, schools and residents of the region to talk to people about what the alliance is working on and the benefits it could bring to children, schools, businesses and families.

Dennis said the alliance also could begin examining the potential sites locations and develop a budget to determine the amount and timing of the financial resources needed to launch the project.

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