WILTON — After nearly two and half years of conceptualizing, planning and fundraising, spring weather has brought the first visible work on turning a 19th century building on Main Street into a children’s play museum.

Organizers behind the Western Maine Play Museum hope the outdoor renovation work at 561 Main St. will show the community they are still dedicated to bringing the interactive children’s museum to life.

“We want to keep the energy in the community high for us,” said Lori Lewis, chairwoman of the organization’s capital campaign. “It’s a long process.”

“When people see progress on the outside of the building and pictures of renovations being done, we’re hoping that will spur more donations,” she said.

The move to establish the Western Maine Play Museum began in the fall of 2013, when a board of community members was established to develop the idea and designs for the museum. The work began in 2014 to raise $750,000 to bring the museum to life.

The project received a $15,000 grant this month from the Betterment Fund, putting the total raised at $255,000. This puts the organization $95,000 away from the $350,000 it needs to receive a $150,000 grant from the Sandy River Charitable Foundation.

Angela McLeod, president of the museum’s board of directors, said the fundraising has been more difficult than organizers imagined, but they are dedicated to keeping momentum on the project going.

“It’s been almost two years since we started our capital campaign, so we’ve always been inching along,” McLeod said. “It’s sort of slow momentum punctuated by exciting moments.”

VISIBLE SPENDING

Since the organization received the 100-year old Main Street building as a donation in 2014, the interior of the building has been stripped to its studs while raising the money needed for renovations — $500,000 of the total goal — has been ongoing.

Lewis said the structure of the building is in great shape, but practically everything else, including siding and windows, has to go.

With the goal of keeping the community excited about the project, McLeod said organizers are being strategic about how they’re spending the money they’ve raised and made the conscious decision to have the first renovation work “be very visible spending.”

On Wednesday, students from the Maine School of Masonry, who have volunteered their labor, began laying the foundation for an outdoor brick wall that will serve as the visual barrier between the museum and the street. These students will also build an outdoor courtyard for the museum.

Within the next few weeks, Lewis said installation of heating and plumbing systems will begin, as well as exterior work on the building, including new siding and windows.

Upright Frameworks of Farmington has offered to do renovations at cost and to donate the labor.

McLeod said that the only money being used presently for renovations are grants the organization has received. Since the capital campaign began, they have received significant donations from private donors and businesses, but the board will not spend that private money until the end of renovations, so the individuals can be sure their money is going toward a project that will actually come to life.

“The money we’re spending currently is all grant money on the facade and the courtyard,” McLeod said.

Several of the rooms in the museum have been sponsored for a total of $100,000 of the money raised so far. Room sponsors include Upright Frameworks, Franklin Savings Bank, the Shibles-Colley family, the Bass family and the Wilton Congregational Church.

McLeod said significant grants include $50,000 from the Davis Family Foundation and $25,000 from the Franklin Savings Bank Foundation. The Davis Family foundation grant, which the museum received in April 2015, will be put towards installing the heating and cooling system in the coming weeks.

“The community needs to be reminded that it’s still happening, that we still need your support,” McLeod said.

McLeod, a Wilton resident, came up with the idea of bringing a children’s museum to western Maine after living in the Boston area and being exposed to a variety of museums. She came back to Wilton to raise her family.

She said the area has abundant natural resources young families can use, but given the weather, it needed an indoor alternative for children.

“The big push was having more opportunities for local kids. Even in the summer, the weather is pretty variable,” McLeod said. Children’s museums “give (parents) a place and a space to feel like they’re nurturing their children’s minds while not forcing learning on them.”

When completed, the museum will feature two floors worth of interactive playrooms and exhibits, each with a different theme, for infants and children up to 8 or 9 years old.

Lewis said the museum has also gotten interest from organizations who coordinate programs for adults with disabilities.

“It’s a learning and fun environment,” Lewis said.

A projected $200,000 of the $750,000 goal will go toward the museum’s exhibits. Some of the private donations made to the museum so far have been designated for exhibits.

The museum will feature a nature room, a building room, a “smart room” geared towards technology, a gathering room where children will be encouraged to socialize while doing hands-on learning, a magnet room, a play village featured around a “miniature town,” an invention room, a train room, a dark room focusing on the scientific concept of light, as well as a room for infants and toddlers.

If enough money is raised to establish at least some of the exhibits, Lewis said the museum may have a partial opening.

Lewis said individual rooms can be purchased for $10,000 or $20,000 donations. Some have already been bought.

A DESTINATION

Both Lewis and McLeod said they envision the museum helping downtown Wilton prosper.

“Main Street in Wilton has been through rough times since the mills went out. It’s pretty rough on Main Street and every little bit gets people excited,” McLeod said.

Lewis said she envisions the museum as a bookend for downtown, complementing Wilson Lake and its natural attractions.

Wilton Town Manager Rhonda Irish said she shares Lewis’ belief that the museum will serve as a great anchor for downtown and that it is “awesome that they’ve been able to finally start work on it.”

Maine has children’s museums in Bangor, Augusta, and Portland, and Irish said she has driven an hour or more to bring her two young granddaughters to them. She said she hopes that the museum in Wilton will make the town a destination.

“There aren’t a lot of play museums in the state, and it will just be a great draw for families to bring their children to,” Irish said. “It goes right along with our downtown revitalization.”

Aside from the play museum making headway, more visible changes are planned for Wilton’s downtown this summer when the town will be putting a $400,000 Maine Department of Economic and Community Development grant to use.

The money will be used to spruce up downtown, including new streetlights, sidewalk extensions, crosswalk improvements and different amenities like the addition of new benches. Irish said the work will begin in late summer.

To further the progress of the museum, Irish encourages more larger businesses from Franklin County to contribute to the museum’s capital campaign.

“I’m hoping to see this being done while my granddaughters are still young,” Irish said. “I do think it’s possible.”

The organization will continue their fundraising this month with a Paint and Sip planned for LaFleur’s restaurant in Jay on April 30.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.