PASADENA - Who needs a pricey new building when there's sunshine outside and the Arroyo Seco on your doorstep?
That was part of the reasoning when officials at Kidspace Children's Museum, bowing to economic realities, opted to put on hold an ambitious $20million, 9,000-square-foot building and instead create a Physics Forest that will feature 10 to 15 new exhibits in a naturally landscaped area shaded with transplanted native trees.
The "enchanted physics forest," designed to target to ages 7 to 10, will be built on an empty half-acre
on the museum's east side, where officials originally planned for the new building. The scheduled opening is 2012, said Janet MacLean, the museum's chief of staff.
"We want to maximize the outdoors," she said. "That's the new focus - improving the `family experience' and increasing our target audience."
Most of Kidspace's current offerings are designed to appeal to "zero to 6- or 7-year-olds," MacLean said.
The proposed new exhibits, to be designed by Florida-based "Hands On!," include a Giant Resonant Pendulum to introduce children to the laws of harmonic motion and magnetic force, the Kid Powered Fan, a hydraulic pulley system, and a solar "Sun-Spotter" telescope.
"I'm extremely excited about it," said Mike Brown, a Caltech astronomer and a Kidspace board member. "It's going to be a place that I see myself, as a kid, wanting to go and spend all my time there."
"They play and accidentally learn things along the way," he said, adding that the concept is designed to work on two levels.
"One is kids doing stuff and watching how things work in combination, quite literally moving things using their own power," he said. "And some is things happening in the environment that are very deeply intellectual."
For example, for children, rolling some object down different planes at different speeds could be seen as a competition. But on another level, it demonstrates the concept of "rotational inertia," he said.
"When you see how things work, the deeper you get into it. It's like an onion you keep peeling," Brown said.
No dollar amount for the project has yet been worked out, MacLean said, but the outdoor exhibit space will cost "dramatically less" than a new building.
The next step will be to design a campaign to raise funds in an "economically challenging environment," she said.
In March, MacLean reported that museum officials had raised $1.7 million for the new building and secured a $1.7 million matching grant award from the state for its new exhibits.
Officials are hopeful that the building-fund donors will agree to redirecting the $3.4 million.
In the meantime, Kidspace's new red bubble logo and sign at Brookside Park are going up; lamp-post banners are ready to be hung around town; posters will soon appear on 135 bus shelters all over the San Gabriel Valley; and the museum's easier-to-use website is nearly ready to be unveiled.
"We're a `brand' now," MacLean joked. "The whole goal is to get people here."
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