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This article was published 1/9/2010 (3271 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
On Tuesday, Stella Snidal gave her final weather report at the Manitoba Children's Museum, forecasting a giant tornado.
Then the outgoing eight-year-old signed off forever from the mock TV station where she has spent many imaginative hours, both behind and in front of the closed-circuit camera.
The station is about to cease broadcasting because the museum at The Forks is being hit by a tornado of change: a $10-million renovation/expansion that will see almost every exhibit and activity replaced.
The much-loved real train will stay at the centre of the action. But everything else is being derailed after 16 years of hands-on play and more than two million visits — far exceeding the seven years' wear and tear that are considered the norm for exhibit replacement among kids' museums, the staff say.
The giant oak tree with a built-in slide is being chopped down, the beaver dam and animal caves torn out, the yellow car pulled off the road.
Monday is the final day for regular public hours before the facility closes for eight months, but families are invited to a two-night See Ya Later, Alligator! farewell party to say a festive goodbye (see sidebar).
Stella's mom, Tracy Sandmoen, was feeling wistful on their final visit, but hopeful about the new exhibits to come.
"We thought we'd come and spend one last time here, because we've spent so many happy hours here," said Sandmoen, who has been taking Stella to the museum since she was a baby. "It's kind of sad, actually, because it won't be so familiar anymore. But (the renovation) is really exciting. I hope she's not too big for it when it opens up again."
The museum has been drawing about 135,000 visitors per year. It's hoped attendance will grow to at least 200,000 per year after the targeted reopening date of April 28, said Lisa Dziedzic, director of marketing and communications.
The full-time staff of 12 will work in the building through the renovation, while about 20 part-timers will be temporarily laid off.
The revamped museum will feature 12 "discovery learning" galleries designed by Montreal's Toboggan Design with an eye to Manitoba's education curriculum.
Sara Hancheruk, director of education and exhibits, is in constant contact with the designers as they fine-tune the galleries.
"Whatever exhibit I'm working on at that moment is my new favourite," she said. "They're absolutely amazing, and I think all our visitors will go through the same thing, where each day they'll have a new favourite."
The galleries include a Splash Lab for water experiments (it's still being worked out how wet the kids will get); an Illusion Tunnel with a giant, vision-tricking slide; a Pop M'art where kids will "shop" for supplies and do arts and crafts; and a Milk Machine that will take visitors inside a giant dairy cow.
For the first time at the museum, there will be a place for all-out physical activity: Lasagna Lookout, a five-level, multi-textured play structure that will allow kids to climb as high as the rafters while working their way through pasta-themed elements such as "rigatoni rollers" and different sizes of "tomatoes" that fit into openings.
"There's a Swiss cheese sort of climbing wall," said Hancheruk.
An area that many parents have requested is Tot Spot, a gallery with stroller parking where babies and toddlers will be able to explore on soft, toddler-scaled structures. Bigger kids won't be allowed there.
The galleries will be separate "cubic structures" (based on children's building blocks), meaning that one gallery can be closed for repairs or replaced entirely without disrupting the rest of the museum, Dziedzic said.
A 3,500-square-foot Welcome Centre is being added to the front of the building to accommodate a new admissions area, museum shop, coat and lunchroom areas. Security, safety and accessibility will be enhanced, compared to the current entrance area.
A new Arts & Exhibition Centre will be equipped for touring exhibits, special events and performances, with a stage and professional sound and lighting.
The museum hopes to donate salvageable components of the cast-off exhibits to other institutions. For instance, "The Saskatoon children's museum is going to come and see if there's anything they can use," said Hancheruk.
The Manitoba Children's Museum opened in 1986. It moved to its current location in a historic train-repair building at The Forks in 1994.
The facility is about to close for an eight-month renovation. A capital campaign to raise $10 million has brought in $7.7 million to date. Donors will be recognized with "building blocks" in the revamped museum.
Sept. 10 and 11 from 6 to 9 p.m., families have their last chance to say goodbye to the six existing galleries and their well-worn interactive exhibits. The See Ya Later, Alligator! farewell parties feature live reptiles (including an alligator), a magician and a fire juggler, musical performances by Alphabet Soup (Friday) and Jake Chenier (Saturday), snacks, alligator crafts, goody bags and more.
This Friday, Sept. 3, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Hot 103 radio personality Ace Burpee will host an outdoor broadcast in front of the museum. Free activities will include a giant inflatable bouncy alligator and face painting. Anyone who donates to the capital campaign can take home a keepsake leaf from the soon-to-disappear giant oak tree exhibit.
The last day of regular hours is Labour Day Monday, Sept. 6. That's also the last chance to see Attack of the Bloodsuckers!, a touring, interactive science exhibition exploring blood-craving creatures such as mosquitoes, leeches, fleas and ticks.
The museum's annual nostalgic display of Eaton's Santa's Village will happen as usual this Christmas, in an alternate location to be revealed in a few weeks.