“This is really cool,” were the first words from Councilmember Marc Elrich at a press conference Tuesday announcing the new KID Museum space in Bethesda.
Nearby was a 3D printer that attracted a lot of curiosity from the elected officials in attendance, some who said they had never seen one before.
After the press conference, a kid showed them how it works.
“Nothing engages the mind more than figuring out how to make something,” said Cara Lesser, KID Museum founder and CEO.
The series of robotics projects, electronic experiments, digital media and other types of hands-on workshops in the KID Museum will be geared toward teaching kids science, technology and the arts in what’s called a Maker Space.
Montgomery County will house the facility for three years in what was an unused, 7,500-square-foot basement space in the aging Davis Library (6400 Democracy Blvd.).
For Lesser and her team, it was a process a few years in the making and which included lobbying for the support of county officials and some significant private donors.
Councilmember George Leventhal, who helped usher in the county process to retrofit the Davis Library space, said Lesser is, “someone to who it’s almost impossible to say no.”
“It’s a great tribute to our county that when a good idea comes forward, the power of that good idea grows roots and turns into a living, healthy thing,” Leventhal said.
Officials from Libraries, the Recreation Department, MCPS, and the county’s Innovation Program all played some role in securing the space for KID Museum. Private donors include Discovery Communications, JBG Companies, Tower Companies, the Mead Family Foundation and Bethesda philanthropist Carol Trawick.
The result — for now — is a space that will open this fall that, according to Leventhal, “has got to be some of the best real estate in Montgomery County.”
“This is going to be something that people from all over come to,” Councilmember Roger Berliner said.
KID Museum anticipates it will serve 20,000 visitors in its first year with an $8 admission fee per person, with discounted programs for school field trips and other organized visits.
The County Council approved a grant to fund outreach and operations at the facility. Three separate members of Council referred to the Exploratorium in San Francisco as something of a model for what they were hoping for.
Elrich recalled being more interested in some of the workshops there than his kids were.
A facility on that scale would require 40,000 square feet, Lesser said. The county officials in attendance, including County Executive Isiah Leggett, pledged to help Lesser find that permanent space.
The closest thing to the KID Museum vision is the National Children’s Museum at National Harbor in Oxon Hill, “which from a region standpoint may as well be in Pennsylvania,” Councilmember Hans Riemer said.
The activities will be geared toward elementary and middle school-aged children and KID Museum said special programs are under development that would align with MCPS curricula. Superintendent Joshua Starr was in attendance.
“A maker space offers the tools, materials, expertise and collaboration to bring an idea to life,” Lesser said. “If ever there were a place to incubate these skills, it is here in the National Capital area.”