By Theresa D. McClellan
For The Fort Bend Star
After the drum line and the speakers and the waving mascots ceased, it was the giggling youngsters swarming past the colorful ribbons, confetti and balloons of the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center that let organizers know they had a success on their hands.
Little ones tugged their adults towards the multiple exhibits in Kidtropolis where a miniature Fort Bend County featured area businesses including an HEB grocery, the ABC Animal and Bird Clinic and Another Time Soda Fountain and Cafe where the children got hands-on experience in business.
Youngsters raced behind the deli counter to take orders for smiling family members seated at tables with colorful rubbery toy meals of meatballs and toast set before them. Others draped stethoscopes around their necks at the animal clinic and children played beneath the hood of a half Mercedes Benz.
Around the corner, youngsters made music on chimes, slapped their hands onto glowing screens and walked through the colorful exhibit of faeries and dragons, mouths agape, Amid the frequent sounds of “mama look’” and laughter, organizers watched with pride that their dream for Sugar Land had come to fruition.
“This is the culmination of a lot of dreams and a lot of planning,” said Sugar Land Councilmember Himesh Gandhi who was there with his family.
Those dreams were publicly recognized as student leaders delivered “keys to the city of Kidtropolis” to donors. For example, John Null received the Foundation key; Derek Brown of Mercedes Benz received the Corporate key; Charlene Payne received the “most generous donor” key and a representative for Larry Johnson of Johnson Development received the vision award key.
Emcee Nancy Olson, wife of U.S. Rep. Pete Olson, said 250 corporations donated $4 million and Johnson Development gave more than $5 million to restore the facility while the Houston Children’s Museum gave “more than 10 years and over $1 million to make this world class.”
The statuesque Olson shared the stage with youngsters who often used a stepstool to reach the microphone. A children’s committee of a dozen Fort Bend students serve as ambassadors to the museum, which allows young ones to learn and explore financial literacy, math, science and imagination.
Rose Odom, 67, was the first one in line Saturday for the grand opening. She arrived at 8 a.m. and parked a portable chair behind the ones for designated dignitaries while her three grandchildren Tony Odom, 11, and Jasmine and Eden Odom-Bashir, ages 8 and 6, eagerly took photographs in a Wells Fargo stage coach set up outside as they waited 90 minutes for the program to begin.
“This is fabulously creative,” said the grandmother, who remembers when it was a sugar mill. “I just wanted to get here early to see what they’ve done and what they’ve done is remarkable. You know what they say, if they build it, we will come.”
The Center at 198 Kempner St. is located on the first floor of the old packaging warehouse for Imperial Sugar. The silos can be seen from U.S. 90. The museum is part of the redevelopment of the historic sugar mill being done by Johnson Development.
“This is just wonderful what they’ve done with revamping this historical site. You hope that Houston is taking notes at what can be done with the Astrodome,” said Odom’s daughter, Allison Odom-Bashir.
As she waited in line, the former Dulles High School cheerleader saw an old classmate who was also drawn to the facility.
“See, this is just bringing the community together,” said Odom-Bashir.
The 12,500 square foot facility holds 300 people and by 10:25 a.m. a worker had to cordon off the entrance to the growing crowd explaining they would let more in later. That was no surprise to Jan Bartholomew of Baird, the financial firm sponsoring Saturday’s Grand Opening which allowed everyone free entry that day.
“We knew this would be a big hit with the children and it was important to us to be a part,” said Bartholomew.
The museum is similar to the Children’s Museum in midtown Houston except it features Fort Bend businesses in a mini-downtown atmosphere. It gives children the opportunity to learn while having fun.
On Saturday, each youngster received a debit card loaded with $20 of play money and the opportunity to earn more money role play working in the different businesses. An ATM from Well Fargo allowed them to see how much they had in their accounts, “this is just like a real ATM,” gushed 11-year-old Tony Odom who already had earned $300 “working” in the different exhibits.
“I’m going to the store to see what I can get,” he told his grandmother.
“I solved a mystery” exclaimed 6-year-old Eden before running off to play in the store as her grandmother smiled and nodded. Jasmine was behind the counter of the deli so her mother asked the youngster if she was going to take her grandmother’s order.
Mom returned to the table with a smirk, “Oh, she said she’s the manager.”
The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday costs $12.