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Children’s museum expansion hopes to energize town

After years of planning, Kidzu Children’s Museum can finally move forward on a large expansion.

The Chapel Hill Town Council approved a lease for the museum to build a new site on the roof of the Wallace Parking Plaza at Rosemary and Henderson streets.

“We’re just elated,” said Cathy Maris, executive director of the museum.

The deal will lease the property to the museum for $1 a year for 99 years.

Kidzu currently takes up 2,700 square feet, only 1,200 of which are used for exhibits.

With the expansion, this number will increase to 15,000 square feet, and an outdoor area will add 5,000 more, Maris said.

Kidzu will use this extra space to add exhibits, especially those geared toward older children.

The town of Chapel Hill also will be able to use part of the site for events.

Museum officials said they hope to have the new site completed by 2014.

In their petition to the council, museum staff emphasized the new site’s potential to revitalize downtown Chapel Hill and attract visitors.

“Who better to energize downtown than young children and their families?” Maris said.

And since many parents and teachers take children on field trips to Raleigh, Durham or other out-of-town sites, the expansion would bring more revenue into town, said Jonathan Mills, chairman of the museum’s board of directors.

Kidzu had planned to expand since the museum opened in 2006.

Years later, the museum’s vision is outgrowing its old site, Maris said. During school field trips, for instance, the museum has only been able to fit one class at a time into the building.

“There have been kids with their faces pressed up against the window, waiting to get in,” she said.

The council approved the lease unanimously with almost no discussion. Only Jim Ward spoke up, urging Kidzu to make the new building sustainable.

“Don’t build a 20th-century building for these kids,” he said.

The expansion will cost the museum about $6 million to $7 million, money Kidzu doesn’t yet have.

But the museum will have an easier time finding donors to cover this cost now that the site is secured, Mills said.

Council vacancy

Also at the meeting, a timetable was set to discuss filling the vacant Town Council seat.

The newly elected council will make the appointment after new members are sworn in next month.

Applicants will make their presentations Dec. 9, and the council will consider them Dec. 14.

Contact the City Editor at

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