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KidTime still hopes to reopen in 2021

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The Medford children’s museum still needs $1 million to finish renovations

At a time when nonprofits around the country are struggling to keep their doors open, KidTime staff and volunteers say they are champing at the bit to reopen their museum play space while holding on to hope for continued community support and funding.

Truth be told, a miracle or two wouldn’t hurt either, said KidTime Executive Director Sunny Spicer.

While the Medford nonprofit was carefully navigating toward a final four months at its downtown location when the pandemic struck, early closure put a damper on funding sources, staffing levels and everything in between.

The timeline to renovate and reopen KidTime’s preschool program and play museum in the historic Carnegie Library building shifted from “during 2020” to “hoping for fall 2021, said Spicer.

During COVID-19 closures, museum staff and teachers transitioned to different job titles while reduced staffing and services coincided with increased demand for help from families of essential, frontline workers, a need for distance learning for students and emergency child care needs for families displaced by last summer’s wildfires.

Remaining staff ultimately traded teaching and wrangling students for disassembling exhibits and moving out of the old digs while helping to provide emergency care and “distance learning,” including creation of more than 2,800 “KidTime From Home” kits, for kids who couldn’t attend in-person.

While efforts to keep families engaged have continued, Spicer said KidTime officials are hopeful to get back to doing what they do best.

“Our challenge, above all else, has been that we are building an entirely new facility, competing for contractors during the worst fire devastation in our history, renovating a century-old building to meet new COVID protocols, and raising the $9.5 million necessary to do so — at a time when most similar organizations are struggling just to reopen their original facilities,” she said.

A ray of hope, KidTime preschool reopened for in-person classes in September while staff continued to hone their construction skills and improved their efficiency for daily “Hunger Games” level competition for limited building materials.

A silver lining, albeit at great cost to the state overall, closure of Portland Children’s Museum in June — the state’s largest — yielded four semi-truck loads of exhibits and museum supplies in recent weeks.

Spicer said it was sobering to get a desperately needed boost from the loss of the 75-year-old facility — the country’s sixth-oldest children’s museum and a longtime inspiration for KidTime.

“It’s a huge loss for the state and for the Portland community and for all of us as museum professionals, so it was extremely hard to go there and pack those things up to bring back,” Spicer said.

“At least we did feel like we’d be able to repurpose them in a way that is carrying that legacy forward. It’s just such hard times for nonprofits — and children’s museums in particular. By some counts, more than half the children’s museums in the country are closing or expected to permanently close, so we feel really fortunate in that we’re not closing but working to open bigger and better than before.”

Spicer said she was hopeful the museum would open this fall, even if some renovations would continue to happen as funding allowed. Spicer estimated that KidTime still needs about $1 million to fully renovate its new space.

“We’ve been extremely careful with our dollars, but running a nonprofit in times like this is always going to be a challenge. We’re probably going to still need some community support to see that through, but I guess the big thing we want to let everyone know is that it is still happening, no matter what,” Spicer said.

“There probably has been a lingering question as to whether or not we would ever open again — and it feels like we’ve been closed for so long that we’ve even had moments where we felt pretty unsure — but we will reopen. It may take us a little extra time than initially planned for, but we will definitely reopen our doors, and it will be wonderful.”

Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com

How To Help

Executive Director Sunny Spicer said KidTime could use donations of money, materials and labor, particularly by skilled contractors. For information, or to offer to help, call Spicer at 541-772-9922.

Donations can be made online at www.kid-time.org/

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Outside construction at KidTime in downtown Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Sunny Spicer makes her way through improvements happening KidTime in downtown Medford.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Sunny Spicer places play fruit into orchard cut-outs at KidTime.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Sunny Spicer puts fabrics through the Air Lab at KidTime.