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Take A Look Inside The New Wonderscope Children’s Museum In South Kansas City

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Lucy Young, 10, left, and Anna Mulcahy, 4, shop in the Wonder Market inside Wonderscape during a preview visit for the Kansas City Mom Collective on Tuesday.

The 30-year-old museum doubles its size with a move from Shawnee, Kansas, to Kansas City, Missouri — and aims to be a regional destination.

Founded in 1989, the Wonderscope Children’s Museum outgrew its home inside a former elementary school in Shawnee, Kansas.

In 2017, a $15 million capital campaign launched to build a new facility at the Red Bridge Shopping Center in Kansas City, Missouri.

"We've always viewed ourselves as an educational resource to the community," says executive director Roxane Hill. "And I think this larger facility in a more central location is going to give us that on a grander scale."

On Friday, the Regnier Family Wonderscope Children's Museum of Kansas City opens
at 433 East Red Bridge Road — with 30,000 square feet indoors and a ½ acre for outdoor activities.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Sherita Neal watches her daughter, Layla, 5, usher a toy boat through the Water Works play area inside Wonderscope on Tuesday.

Work got underway at the new South Kansas City location in October 2019.

And Wonderscope, tucked into a residential neighborhood near Johnson Drive and Nieman Road, stayed open in Shawnee, at least until March due to coronavirus shutdowns.

“We were going to have a big summer bash and have everyone come and celebrate and just have a proper goodbye," says Hill, "have a good closure on that space before we made our way over to open the new museum."

She adds, “However, COVID came in.”

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, construction was considered an essential service, so the museum remained on track to open its new location on October 23.

“It’s still going to have that same Wonderscope magic,” says Hill. “It’s just going to be bigger and better.”

The museum will continue to serve children up to the age of 10, with a focus on STEAM — science, technology, engineering, art and math.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
One of the features of Wonderscope is the Crossroads of Past and Future. Elements of Kansas City's transportation history such as a riverboat, railway car and covered wagon provide children an experiential component with the region's history.

“We have envisioned a premier destination experience where families can celebrate play, and children can tinker and experiment at their own pace,” says Bob Regnier, steering committee chair and president of the Regnier Family Foundation, in a release. “And, that’s exactly what we have built.”

The design team was led by Haizlip Studio, a Memphis design firm, which hosted focus groups to incorporate distinctive Kansas City elements across the 10 exhibits. Suggestions, Hill says, included weather, sports teams, fountains, agriculture, jazz and barbecue.

A Wonder Climber stretches two stories, from floor to ceiling, through caves and ramps and across a rope bridge that leads to a life-sized school bus. And, Hill says, that’s where they incorporated the weather.

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Wonderscope's layout includes a climbing area that affords an overview of the facility and a closeup view of some debris like a flying bicycle caught in a tornado.

“A tornado happened to come through Kansas City and it just tosses everything up in the air,” describes Hill. “So we have the bus that got tossed up in here that’s sticking halfway in the building and outside of the building, we have a cow that’s suspended.”

Protocols are in place, including limited numbers during morning and afternoon sessions to allow for social distancing. Visitors older than three are required to wear face masks. And sanitizing stations will be at every exhibit.

"You know, people continue to be cautious about being enclosed in a space," says Hill. "It is a very large, very expansive museum with limited numbers. You will have plenty of room to move around.”

Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Cora Willhite, 4, pauses as she contemplates continuing into the climbing area inside Wonderscape on Tuesday.

Outdoor activities have become even more critical during the coronavirus era.

Wonderscope's outdoor space includes an adaptive treehouse, life-size flowers as musical instruments, and an agricultural playscape with a silo.

“I think we can provide a fun, but safe, environment for the family,” says Hill.

The Regnier Family Wonderscope Children’s Museum of Kansas City opens with a ribbon-cutting on Friday, October 23, at 8:30 a.m. The museum officially opens at 9 a.m. with reserved admission tickets.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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