The baby steps of construction work have finally begun on the Children’s Museum of Santa Barbara, a three-story, 25,000-square-foot building slated for a wedge of land next to the downtown train station. The lower State Street project was seven years in the making, and this week earth movers started leveling and smoothing the plot in anticipation of an official groundbreaking this fall.
Designed by late architect Barry Berkus — whose plans were later completed by AB Architects — the museum will feature interactive exhibits, a classroom lab, rooftop garden, and theater. It’s been envisioned as a scaled-down version of the massive and popular Exploratorium “learning lab” in San Francisco, and Gyroscope, Inc. of Oakland was chosen to develop its STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) exhibits that will target 3- to 12-year olds and align with new Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.
Museum director Sheila Cushman has said she expects doors to open in June 2016, and that the location will attract around 100,000 visitors a year. (For comparison’s sake, more than 120,000 people visit the Museum of Natural History every year.) Admission prices will be similar to the Museum of Natural History ($12 for adults; $7 for kids) and the Zoo ($15 for adults; $10 for kids), according to the Children’s Museum’s website.
While design approvals came from the city many years ago, the project was mired in financial limbo by the dissolution of Redevelopment Agencies (RDAs) across the state. Santa Barbara officials were eventually able to transfer the land from the RDA to the city, which is now leasing the property to the museum for free.
The project’s total cost is expected to top out at $25 million, including $5 million for an endowment. More than half of the total amount has been raised, the museum’s website states, with more fundraising on the way.