Wednesday, Feb. 20th, 2019

New Children’s Museum Will Share Space With Family Resource Center and 4K School

Block 7 concept with Children's Museum and office space. Click for a biggie.
Block 7 concept drawing from Pablo Properties with Children's Museum. Click for a biggie.

Three Chippewa Valley institutions that focus on children and families have announced two unique partnerships that will be made possible when the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire moves into a new home in the near future.

The museum announced on Tuesday, Feb. 19, that its new building – which is planned for the Block 7 redevelopment site on North Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire – will house a pre-kindergarten school in partnership with the Eau Claire Area School District as well as a new home for the Family Resource Center for Eau Claire County.

The three entities say the new partnerships will save money for the nonprofit agencies involved while also helping families by offering a range of services and opportunities under one roof.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about this opportunity.” – Children’s Museum Executive Director Michael McHorney

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about this opportunity,” Children’s Museum Executive Director Michael McHorney said of working with the school district. He said the museum planned to align its new facility with the early-learning model used by the district.

The two-section pre-K school will be part of the school district’s Eau Claire 4 Tomorrow program, which offers free, half-day 4-year-old kindergarten classes for children at 21 locations throughout the community, most of them private child care centers.

Eau Claire School District Superintendent Mary Ann Hardebeck said the partnership with the Children’s Museum will give families another choice for their kids’ early education. “I think this is going to provide a very deep and rich experience for many students for many years to come,” she said.

The new partnership began, Hardebeck said, with a conversation over a cup of coffee. “When we started talking about the possibility of a preschool program housed at the museum, it just hit so many of the buttons, the things that we are trying to do in the school district in terms of providing opportunities for intentional play with students so that we can do that great work to develop their young brains and get them ready for school,” Hardebeck said.

This isn’t the first collaboration between the Children’s Museum and the school district. Since the museum opened in 2004, it has worked with the school district to provide all district kindergartners with a field trip experience. In 2016, the museum began offering summer school classes for pre-K through fifth-grade students.

At a press conference, McHorney signed a letter of intent with Hardebeck to create the preschool partnership as well as a letter forming the partnership with the Family Resource Center. The latter agreement was also signed by Dr. Jennifer Eddy, interim executive director of the FRC.

Under the terms of the partnership, the Family Resource Center, which is currently located at Oakwood Mall, would co-locate with the new Children’s Museum. Eddy said this will benefit the Family Resource Center by giving them shared access to office space and other resources. However, they would also have their own dedicated space and be able to maintain their own identity as an agency, she said. The Family Resource Center, which was founded in 1999, provides education, prevention, support, and networking for families, particularly those with children from birth through age 5. Among other programs, the FRC offers Parent Café gatherings, one-to-one parent mentoring, and playgroups for young children.

“We just think this is a great partnership, and we’re very excited to be part of it,” Eddy said. “We also think being more public like this we’ll be able to recruit more families. The beauty of the Family Resource Center model is that it doesn’t target families that are struggling. It’s prevention and support for all families.”

McHorney said that in its new home the museum intends to create a “Center for the Young Child” – an area for toddlers that could be used by the FRC for playgroups and programs. In addition, the museum hopes to build a sensory room that is designed for special-needs children.

McHorney said the new museum will have about 21,000 square feet indoors plus outdoor space on a “green” roof. The current museum, 220 S. Barstow St., had about 15,000 square feet on three levels.

Late last year, the city’s Redevelopment Authority, which owns Block 7, entered into an agreement with Pablo Properties for Pablo to develop the site. Pablo’s plans include a two-story children’s museum, a 125,000-square-foot office building that would include first-floor retail space for the likes of a bank branch or a small grocery store, and a public plaza including a water feature, green space, outdoor seating, and access to underground parking.

Pending final city approval, Pablo hopes to break ground on the $32 million development this year. The museum is hoping to be moved into its new space by early 2021.

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State Theatre Building Sold and Its Future May Include the Performing Arts

State Theatre, downtown Eau Claire
State Theatre, downtown Eau Claire

Downtown Eau Claire’s landmark State Theatre – which has sat unused since the opening of the Pablo Center at the Confluence last fall – has a new owner, and could soon become a home for youth programming, artistic performances, and more. Last week the 92-year-old theater complex, 316 Eau Claire St., was purchased by Elk Mound-based Azara Properties.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do there.” – Joe Luginbill

While Azara will own the building, it will be operated and programmed by the Luginbill Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit group founded by Joe Luginbill, a self-described “social entrepreneur” and president of the Eau Claire Area School Board.

Luginbill said in an interview that details of the foundation’s plans for the State Theatre won’t be announced for a few weeks. However, Luginbill said he was excited to play a role in reviving a community staple, which began its life as a movie palace and then spent 30 years as home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council.

“The sky’s the limit in terms of what we can do there,” Luginbill said, noting that advisory committees on youth programming and fine arts were already being formed. He noted that, contrary to previous reports, the building’s deed includes no restrictions on using it as a performing arts venue. (Originally, such restrictions were cited as a way to keep the State from becoming a direct competitor to the Pablo Center.)

“We’ll have a little bit of something for everybody,” Luginbill said. The facility will still be called the State, and Luginbill hopes to breath new life into the building while also preserving its historic nature.

“There will be some aspects of what we are doing that will be maintaining what was there in the past, but there will be some exciting new ventures of things that haven’t been done in the area,” Luginbill said.

The Luginbill Children’s Foundation was founded in December 2016. Joe Luginbill serves as the nonprofit group’s president, and his parents and siblings are board members. According to its website, the foundation has launched several youth-centered programs, from cooking classes to music scholarship funds.

Azara Properties is registered to Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, who owns several properties and businesses in the Eau Claire area, including Azara, a hookah and vape shop on Water Street. Hashlamoun also owns the former My Place Bar, 406-408 Galloway St., which he plans to reopen as My Office Lounge, a coffee shop and bar.

Pam Rasmussen, president of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, which owned the State, said the sale closed Thursday, Jan. 31. “I’m glad it’s someone who’s going to work to restore it and do something that works with the arts community,” Rasmussen said of the buyers.

Neither she nor Luginbill disclosed the building’s sale price, but the Leader-Telegram, citing Eau Claire County property records, reported that it was $195,000. (The previous asking price for the 40,000-square-foot facility was $450,000.) The State closed held its last events in August, right before its successor, the Pablo Center at the Confluence, opened just down the street. Many of the old theater’s contents – including furniture, computers, and pianos – were sold at an auction in December. Now, the sale of the building itself will allow ECRAC to close its own books for good.

Like many Eau Claire residents, Luginbill has strong memories associated with the State Theatre. From an early age he took part in Eau Claire Children’s Theatre productions on the stage, and he was part of the audience for other shows.

“We’re still in pretty early stages,” Luginbill said, “but in the coming weeks and months we’ll be sharing more information when we have it, and ways that the community can get more involved. If people have ideas or energy that they can bring to the table, we welcome that.”

Learn more about the Luginbill Children’s Foundation at luginbillchildrensfoundation.org or contact them at (715) 255-0819.

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