The Children’s Discovery Museum has closed in Augusta and bought the First Congregational United Church of Christ, above, at 7 Eustis Parkway in Waterville. Morning Sentinel file

WATERVILLE — The Children’s Discovery Museum on Wednesday bought the former First Congregational United Church of Christ building at 7 Eustis Parkway and plans to begin renovating it early next year.

“Finding the perfect location for our growing organization has always been a top priority,” said Amarinda Keys, the museum’s executive director. “When we first walked into the space back in 2018, I knew right away that this is where I wanted the museum to be.”

The museum, formerly at 171 Capitol St. in Augusta, features exhibits and activities that seek to ignite children’s curiosity and encourage learning through play.

The Augusta facility closed in March when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Officials have moved all of its contents to the former church building in Waterville, where the museum was leasing part of the building.

The Waterville United Church of Christ now occupies a floor at The Elm at 21 College Ave.

Museum officials hope to begin work on the former church building in early 2021, with a goal of opening before the end of the year, according to Keys.

“We are hopeful that we can stick to this timeline,” she said, “but are prepared for the uncertainty of what next year will look like.”

Keys said she hopes to hire up to six people, the number of employees it had at the Augusta location.

The museum is funded through admission and membership fees, fundraising, grants, sponsorships and programs, with about half of the funding coming from admission and memberships, according to Keys.

“We are thrilled to be taking such an important step forward,” she said Thursday of the building purchase. “Finalizing our location has been a top priority for the past several years, and it feels amazing to have this beautiful property secured.

“We can’t wait to begin transforming the space into our museum, and are even more excited to welcome children and families in the near future.”

The new building, located two minutes from exit 130 of Interstate 95, includes an exhibit hall that is about 3,000 square feet, a gathering hall that also is about 3,000 square feet, birthday party rooms, classroom spaces, bathrooms, office space and a substantial kitchen, perfect for catering events or running children’s cooking programs, according to Keys.

The property also had room for outdoor exhibits and playscapes, she said.

Exhibits at the museum will include a maker space for tinkering, experimenting, and building; a city with a hardware store, auto shop, restaurant and more; and a nature-inspired area, with a large tree, campsite and research cabin.

The exhibits are being designed to embody four elements: play, flexibility, Maine and wellness, according to Keys, who said the museum is working with a Maine-based firm, Field Magnet Design, on the design and fabrication of the new exhibition hall.

The Waterville City Council voted in January 2019 to rezone the church property from Residential-B to Contract Zoned District/Commercial-A to allow the museum to move there.

The contract zone stipulates the building may be used only as a children’s museum, a day care center and the existing church.

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