WATERVILLE — The Children’s Discovery Museum plans to start leasing the sanctuary of the First Congregational United Church of Christ on Eustis Parkway this summer with the expectation of opening the museum next year and buying the building by the end of 2020.

Four members of the Waterville City Council toured the church Wednesday with Amarinda Keys, the museum’s executive director, and Rich Bryant, a member of the museum’s board of directors.

Keys said the museum hired a professional exhibit designer, Field Magnet, of Portland, to work on the exhibits for the new venue. The exhibits will include one that is Maine-related, she said. Others will include a mini-downtown with storefronts, a mill and river exhibit and one related to camping.

“We’re really inspired by all that’s going on in Maine and the resources we have,” Keys said. “We’re definitely going to celebrate the outdoors a lot.”

Councilor Meg Smith, D-Ward 3, said she looks forward to bringing her children, ages 9, 6 and 3, to the museum when it opens.

“The building’s beautiful,” she said. “It has so much potential, and I can’t wait to see what they do with it. It’s such an asset for the community. I can’t wait to bring my kids.”

The exhibits will be hands-on, so children can touch, play and learn, and they will be taught skills they will need when they join the field of work, according to Keys.

Amarinda Keys, executive director of the Children’s Discovery Museum, pulls back a curtain Wednesday to a former chapel that will be used for birthday events during a tour of the museum, which will occupy the First Congregational United Church of Christ building in Waterville. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

This summer, they said, they will work only in the 3,000-square-foot sanctuary, and the church will hold its services in another room of the building. In the sanctuary, which has high ceilings, Keys showed councilors colorful renderings of exhibits, which she said will be set up in zones.

“I know it’s a little bit abstract now, but soon it will be more concrete,” she said.

Councilor Erik Thomas, D-Ward 7, was impressed with the church building and the museum plans.

“I think it’s exciting,” he said. “It’s going to be a great addition to Waterville. I think it fits right in with a lot of other things going on in town.”

The city is undergoing a multimillion-dollar revitalization effort. Keys said a third of all children’s museums are part of downtown revitalization processes.

Councilor Phil Bofia, R-Ward 2, brought his daughter Alyssa, 11, who said the museum will be “really fun.”

Bofia said they have visited the Augusta museum.

“She loved it and she loves anything to do with kids and hands-on activities. It’s one of the things she’s really excited about. I think that many of the children in the community will feel the same.”

Councilor Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, was accompanied by his son Quinn, 7, who Morris said loves interactive play and is inquisitive, so the museum will be a good fit for him.

“I think this is great. This is definitely a positive thing for the kids in Waterville,” Morris said.

Eventually, the museum will expand into another room of the church, which also is about 3,000 square feet and has a stage; and an adjacent kitchen, which will allow the museum to do catered events, Keys said. A room now being used as a food pantry will be the birthday room for hosting birthday parties, according to Bryant.

He said most of the exhibits will be the size of a mini-bus, so they may be mobile. Keys said the museum’s current mobile museum is available for community events now.

Bryant also said there is a great area outside the church that can be used as a natural playground. Eventually, the museum will be able to open up walking trails to connect with those near Thayer Center for Health and Alfond Youth Center, both on North Street, he said.

The museum, now located at 171 Capitol St. in Augusta, has interactive exhibits and hands-on programs designed to spark children’s curiosity and celebrate learning through play.

The Waterville City Council in January voted to rezone the church property at 7 Eustis Parkway from Residential-B to Contract Zoned District/Commercial-A to allow the museum to move there. The condition of the contract zone is that the only permitted uses of the property are a children’s museum, a day care center and the existing church. Currently, Half Pints, a day care center and preschool, formerly of Gilman Street, operates in the church building.

The Children’s Museum has been in existence 26 years.

The 14,000-square-foot church has about 125 members, its pastor, Mark Wilson, said last year. It was built in 1966. Before that, it was on Temple Street for 160 years, behind where the current Colby College residential complex is now, he said. Some current church members also attended the Temple Street church, which was demolished as part of urban renewal efforts many years ago. Church officials plan to keep the church, which has been in the city 190 years, in Waterville, and they hope to find a spot closer to the heart of the city.

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