By Joe Southern
Right now the Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center is a contrast of major construction going on alongside vibrant, colorful detail work of the exhibits that will be ready for interaction with little hands when the facility holds its grand opening on May 28.
“People are really starting to talk about it,” said Susie Goff, a volunteer member of the community council that serves as a board of directors for the museum.
The Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center is a branch of the Children’s Museum of Houston. It is located on the first floor of what was the packaging warehouse for Imperial Sugar. Now called Imperial Market, the museum is part of the redevelopment of the historic sugar mill being done by Johnson Development. When it opens, the center will have five of six planned galleries geared toward children from birth to 12 years.
“The Children’s Museum is significant in that it is one of the top attractions in Houston and we hope this will become one of the top attractions in Fort Bend,” Goff said.
The five galleries in the 12,500-square-foot space will seek to answer quintessential childhood questions through hands-on activities. The sixth gallery, called PlayWorks, will be a playground outside and will be constructed after construction is completed in the Imperial Market redevelopment project.
The questions explored through the galleries include: Can I solve that? How are we alike? How does it work? Where does it come from? Can I do that? and How does my baby grow?
The first gallery will seek to answer the question of how we are alike through an exhibit of dragons and fairies. Tracy Golden, development director for the museum, said it is designed around a theme of Vietnam and will change over time to include cultures of Mexico, Korea and Gullah.
The Tot Spot gallery is designed for children birth to three years where they can work on mastering gross motor skills while exploring a railroad roundhouse sponsored by Union Pacific. There will also be a playhouse and a puppet stage. Golden said it will be the cleanest area of the museum as toys, floors and exhibits are frequently sanitized to help protect the health of the babies and toddlers.
The Cyberchase gallery is designed around mathematical problems and helps children answer the question, “can I solve that?” It is described as a virtual math adventure.
The How Does it Work? gallery will feature fun experiments as children explore areas of science, engineering and physics.
The main attraction of the museum is Kidtropolis, a miniature city where children can learn to work and shop.
Golden said children are given a debit card and they can earn money by working jobs listed on a job board and they can spend money at the businesses around town.
“It was important while we were building Kidtropolis that it resembled Fort Bend,” she said.
The businesses are sponsored by and designed after real places in Fort Bend County. Among them are an H-E-B Market, a Wells Fargo Bank sponsored by the Fred and Mabel Parks Foundation, a community school sponsored by Fort Bend Christian Academy, a diner sponsored by Another Time Soda Fountain and Café, a Mercedes-Benz of Sugar Land precision center, a Fort Bend Herald news bureau, a vet clinic sponsored by ABC Animal and Bird Clinic and an art academy sponsored by OcuSOFT.
The municipal building – or city hall – is sponsored by Manmeet and Paul Likhari and features an ambulance and police car as well as other municipal services and even a CSI crime scene area.
“We want them to feel like this is their community,” Golden said.
Programming will change weekly in each gallery and the “How Are We Alike?” gallery will rotate annually to a new cultural exhibit. Golden said the museum wants to keep exhibits and activities fresh to families have a reason to keep coming back.
“They can learn as much here as they can in a book or a classroom,” Goff said.
Goff and Golden were part of a team that helped raise more than $4 million for the museum. That covered the renovation and start-up costs.
“Johnson Development gave us this building, otherwise this project would not happen,” Golden said.
“It has been a great honor to work with leaders from communities throughout Fort Bend County to make their vision come true. The bonds we have formed will ensue that together we make possible a world-class learning center in a beautiful museum setting located in a historically important area,” Children’s Museum of Houston Executive Director Tammie Kahn said in a news release. “We’ve built a place where the best ideas come together—practically speaking, A Playground for Your Mind.”
A group of Fort Bend County citizens asked the museum in 2006 to consider opening a satellite location in the area. The Children’s Museum conducted summer venues at vacant retail spaces within Town Square in Sugar Land, each for six weeks, during the summers of 2007 and 2008. Those summer efforts were well received with 21,000 visitors each year.
“Not only will the Discovery Center make learning fun, it will provide parents and teachers with new ways to inspire learning success in their children and students. I can’t wait to see the smiling faces of the boys and girls as they walk into the Discovery Center,” said capital campaign co-chair Charlene Pate.
Fort Bend Children’s Discovery Center Grand opening is May 28 at 10 a.m. 198 Kempner St., Sugar Land, TX 77498. Phone: 713-522-1138. childrensdiscoveryfb.org