Community organizers hope by the summer of 2015 to open the doors of a new children’s play museum in downtown Wilton.
The Western Maine Play Museum closed on a donated Main Street building two weeks ago, but the 100-year-old former doctor’s office and home needs extensive renovation before it can be opened to families.
Community members in support of the project said they hope the new museum will help revitalize the downtown, which in recent years has suffered business closings and blight.
“I’d imagine anything being built in the downtown will help,” said Amanda Berry, manager of Food City, across the street from the future museum site. She noted that several in-town businesses have closed in recent years and said the museum could be part of a new direction for development.
A town contractor, Upright Frameworks, has offered to do the renovation at cost, but the group also needs about $500,000.
The building has single-pane glass in the windows, no insulation, knob-and-tube electrical wiring, lead paint throughout the building and some asbestos. Also, the building needs updating to meet commercial building codes and Americans with Disability Act requirements.
Angela McLeod, head of the museum’s board of directors, said the idea about the museum came after she and her husband took their children to a play museum in Boston. McLeod said when children play, they are learning at the same time, and the museum would serve as a space for interactive learning.
She said previously that the museum would be a smaller-scale version of the Boston one and more like the Children’s Discovery Museum on Capitol Street in Augusta, which also has interactive learning exhibits.
Monica Rollins and Brandee Bowen, neighbors of the future museum, said they had just learned about the plans for the building and agreed it could be a good place to take children.
“It’s got a lot of potential,” Rollins said.
The museum board had been searching throughout the community for a space to house a children’s museum since last November, when the nonprofit was formed.
The board was unable to find somewhere affordable to rent, but then the Wilton Downtown Committee put them in touch with the heirs of the 561 Main St. property, who agreed to donate it.
“We’re very happy. We feel the museum will be a great thing for the downtown and the entire community,” said Town Manager Rhonda Irish, who acts as a liaison between the committee and the town.
The estate had been inhabited by Mary and Ruth York, known locally as “the sisters,” who were active in local institutions until they died at ages 95 and 96, respectively.
The sisters and their brother Albert Jr. grew up in the house, which doubled at one time as their father’s general medical practice.
Ken Sawyer, caretaker of the estate, said in a news release that the relatives thought it was appropriate to honor the York family by donating the building for the museum.
“Having delivered and cared for hundreds of children from Wilton and its surrounding towns, the relatives feel that Dr. York, his wife, and children would have taken great pleasure in seeing their home come alive again as a children’s museum and as a step forward in the revival of downtown Wilton,” he said.
One of two local contractors who inspected the building, Upright Frameworks, offered to complete the renovation work at cost.
Josh Wojcik, owner of Upright Frameworks, said his company is doing that to help revitalize the town. Upright Framework has done at-cost work for other nonprofits, though this is a larger project than others, he said.
“One of the cool things about building a successful company is that you get to decide what to do with that success and, frankly, I can’t think of anything better than helping to revitalize my hometown,” he said.
McLeod said the museum expects to launch a capital campaign later this year to raise the money needed to pay for building renovations, furnishings and exhibit creation.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252