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The long, complicated story of the Wausau's Children's Imaginarium's opening
In 2019, I got a tip about the Children’s Imaginarium. I obtained a copy of the letter they’d sent to their contributors, saying that the Children’s Imaginarium’s new home would be the old Graebel Van Lines building across from the YMCA downtown.
This came after two other locations fell through: The third floor of the Wausau library branch and the YWCA building. In both cases, the structure wasn’t solid enough for what they wanted to do with the building. In fact, the library in particular was interesting, because the county basically cheaped out on its construction. It saved money in the short term but ultimately made the third floor pretty much useless without a spending a ton of money (which the imaginarium, then called a children’s museum, would have had to spend to make it work).
Adding to the complications: There also was a Wausau Children’s Museum, which started out as a traveling set of exhibits at other events to eventually moving amongst a few different, increasingly larger spaces in the mall before moving to a giant space in the Cedar Creek Mall after the Wausau Center mall closed and was demolished. People were so confused that I felt the need to write an article explaining they were not the same.
Anyway, when I questioned the founders Maggie Gordon and Tammy Szekeress about the letter, they asked me to hold off writing about it. Why? Things were pretty uncertain there, and they were concerned it would fall through again - with yet more disappointment from the community.
I was promised first dibs on the story when it came to fruition.
I’d heard this before. Sources who have said this to me ended up leaking it to other organizations, or it comes out somehow. This happened to me with Ironbull. I knew about it before most, and had been working with its founder to do a big feature. Then the chamber’s president mentioned it during a public meeting and one of the founders spilled the beans in a subsequent interview.
Getting the story — that eventually everyone else will get — first isn’t what I stake my reputation on, or what I considered to be my main value. In depth explanations, and getting you the stories no one else would have otherwise dug up is my bread and butter. But that said, a deal is a deal. It ought to be honored.
With all that in the background, I reluctantly agreed.
To my surprise, in 2021 I got an email from Gordon and Szekeress. It was time, and I’d get my exclusive. I reported in The Wausonian before anyone that the Children’s Imaginarium would be opening in part of the HOM Furniture building. (I’d caught some wind of it when Wausau Opportunity Zone manager Chuck Ghirdorzi let it slip, though details were vague.)
That brings us to last week, when I toured the new imaginarium on a Monday morning. Szekeress and Gordon, along with new executive director Julie Bollmann, walked me through the museum after I parked on the new Second Street, which connects Forest Street and Washington Street downtown. It’ll be more useful when Washington becomes two-way, but it’s the first of what will be several street grid changes downtown, including converting several one-way streets to two way (which will hopefully make driving downtown less annoying.)
The museum is impressive, about 14,000 square feet in total, with a huge STEM tree in the center, and exhibits designed around Marathon County features, like a kayak race (homage to our whitewater course) and air exhibit (balloon rally) and even a maple syrup making station (a pretend one of course, but with all the elements one would see in a maple syrup operation).
And all of the exhibits are in one big, giant space with huge windows overlooking the rest of the downtown. That’s different than a lot of children’s museums, they tell me, which separate some of the age groups. That makes quite a challenge for caretakers which children of different ages, so they wanted it all in one spot.
Besides that, a lot of the elements of the will be 3D printed in house, allowing for quick replacement of some of the elements of the museum.
The museum is slated to open in early December. It’ll be the first successful project in Wausau Opportunity Zone’s mall redevelopment project, with people working on it who aren’t playing games and just want to see their project come to life.
Did it take awhile? Yes. I first started writing about them some time in 2015. But from the looks of it, it seems like it will be worth the wait for those with small children. And thanks to the wait, they probably got the best possible location.
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