FARMINGTON — It’s been nearly two and half years since organizers of a capital campaign for the Western Maine Play Museum launched the effort with a lofty $750,000 fundraising goal to bring the museum and its exhibits to life.

Now the group is just shy of halfway to reaching that goal, with no opening date set for the museum but with the reality of it edging ever closer.

While the museum’s volunteer board of directors didn’t anticipate it would take this long to raise money for the project, they haven’t lost hope and say they will keep chugging forward at whatever pace is necessary to get the children’s museum open for the community.

“We’re committed for the long haul, which means slow but steady progress,” said Angela McLeod, president of the museum board. “The thing that compels us to continue moving forward is the idea, the dream, of it’s open and that children and families can experience it.”

The plan for the building’s interior calls for dividing it into over 10 rooms, or exhibits, where children of a range of ages can learn and play. Some of the draft exhibits include a nature room, where children can experience interactive exhibits such as the identification of animal tracks and natural items; a building room, where children can construct forts and build block structures; a play village, featuring a miniature town for children to explore; and a dark room where children can learn about the concepts of light and its absence.

The museum already slowly is taking shape at 561 Main St., with the $305,000 the group has raised so far going toward overhauling a 100-year-old building that was donated to the project.

This month the group received a $5,000 grant from Skowhegan Savings Bank, putting it only $45,000 away from reaching $350,000, at which point they will receive $150,000 matching grant from the Sandy River Charitable Foundation.

Once organizers receive the $150,000, they will be able to complete the interior and exterior renovation of the building.

FUNDRAISING CHALLENGES

The push to establish the Western Maine Play Museum began in 2013, when a group of people began exploring the idea of creating a children’s museum in Maine’s western region. In 2014, the group launched the $750,000 capital campaign, and it settled on Wilton as the place where they were able to receive a home for the museum via donation. Ever since then, fundraising has been a slow and steady process.

When the campaign was launched, organizers thought fundraising for the project would take only a year, McLeod said.

“We knew that a lot of people really loved this idea and supported this idea,” McLeod said. “We thought in a year we’d have funding.”

But two and a half years later, McLeod said, they’ve become “hardened old fundraisers.”

While the promise of receiving the matching $150,000 grant is inspiring for organizers, McLeod said, group members are under no false hope that fundraising will speed up once they are able to reach the $500,000 construction goal. Once that goal is reached, the museum still needs another $250,000 to pay for completion of the museum’s exhibits.

Over the course of the capital campaign, organizers have learned that finding grants they are eligible for is difficult, given that they are not an operating museum yet. However, slowly but steadily they’re receiving small donations from individual community members and are still receiving positive feedback from the community about the project.

Lori Lewis, a retired teacher and spokeswoman for the Western Maine Play Museum, said that there were many naysayers in the beginning who told them they weren’t going to be able to reach their goal. Despite the progress made — including a complete overhaul of the building’s exterior — Lewis said not many of those naysayers have come forward to make donations, even though it is clear this project will be completed at this point; it’s just a matter of when.

“There were many people in the beginning that liked the idea but would not commit money,” Lewis said. “We’re not counting on receiving (those donations). We would rather have financial support from people who are excited about this project, even if they can’t donate a lot of money.”

McLeod is hopeful that the remaining $45,000 needed to receive the $150,000 grant will be raised by the end of the year. Fundraising efforts will continue through the fall, and Lewis said she intends to attend area crafts fairs, selling items and talking with people to promote the museum.

“This thing only happens one conversation at a time,” Lewis said.

MORE TO BE DONE

Given the length of the fundraising process, an opening date for the museum has not been set. However, with the progress that has been made on overhauling the building’s exterior, once the inside is complete, a “soft opening” of the museum may be possible, according to Lewis.

Over the summer, significant visible work has been done on the exterior of the building, which had been gutted completely since it was acquired by the organization. Upright Frameworks of Farmington agreed to do the renovation at cost and to donate the labor it would take to complete the project.

Workers have replaced the building’s siding with a crisp blue vinyl siding, and new windows have been installed. Students form the Maine School of Masonry are working to complete a brick courtyard in the front of the museum, which will be accessible only from inside the museum.

Lewis said that while the visible progress is not affecting donations, museum officials are receiving positive feedback from the community about how the appearance of the building is benefiting downtown Wilton.

“The fact that this has taken so long gives people a better idea of how big of a deal this is,” Lewis said.

To complete the exterior, wrought iron work and lights still need to be added to the courtyard, and the parking lot needs to be paved. In the spring, the organization will be putting out a design contest to area students for the design on the door of the museum’s entrance, which has not yet been established.

Once the exterior has been completed, work on finishing and painting the interior will begin.

Three years after the idea was developed, with no end date in sight, what keeps the project going? According to the museum’s organizer’s, it’s the firm belief that it’s a worthwhile project.

“It’s just the stubborn belief that it is going to happen despite the many naysayers that there have been,” Lewis said. “We see the need. We’re determined to make it happen. We believe in it.”

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate


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