FAIRMONT – In its quest to establish a children’s museum in Fairmont, the Family Resource Network has sparked enough community interest to begin presenting the concept to various organizations.
FRN Executive Director Frank Jarman compares the process to making bread, and right now, it is still in the preparation stage of the dough.
“I feel like we’re kneading the dough right now, we’re actually putting it together,” Jarman said. “We’re trying to bring all these parts together, but it will soon be in the oven. We just need to get people interested.”
On Wednesday, the FRN hosted an open meeting at the Marion County Chamber of Commerce offices, where community members could learn about and discuss the chain of events that needs to happen to get this bread in the oven.
Alongside Jarman was Julie Bryan, director of Spark! Imagination Center in Morgantown, as well as representatives from NorthStar Museums and Education, an organization that has worked to bring museums into communities mainly around the Eastern U.S.
“That’s what we’re doing, it’s the very early discussions about the feasibility,” said Rosella Harvey, principal of NorthStar Museums and Education. “The people you want to serve are the children, so you need to make it within reach of every child to be able to come.”
According to Harvey, NorthStar works with community leaders to learn the ins and outs of certain cities and towns, so its representatives can help plot the best course of action to start a project and make it feasible. Meetings with community members help narrow down the feasibility, and that was the subject of Wednesday’s meeting.
“It’s like a funnel,” said Ron Street, managing director of NorthStar Museums and Education. “You start out with all this stuff and you have to start whittling it down to suit whatever that environment is going to be.”
Street mentioned some museums that representatives from NorthStar have helped to consult on, such as the Please Touch museum in Philadelphia, Florida’s Miami Children’s Museum and the Children’s Science Center in Virginia. He said this type of museum can generate interest across states and state lines, and NorthStar has helped make several.
“We do children’s museums but it’s also science, art and artifacts,” Street said. “It’s not limited to just children, we just seem to focus, it seems to be just a passion. It’s a lot of education.”
Harvey said previous NorthStar consulting projects have had successful impact on education and local economies as well.
“There is a significant positive economic impact,” Harvey said. “Families are coming to discovery centers and supporting restaurants, supporting shops. One we did in Philadelphia, it was in the middle of an area where there was no retail business. Within a year of opening, an entire shopping center was developed.”
Jarman agreed that the development of a museum attraction may bring in more business to the area, and said that is why he would like to put one in downtown Fairmont.
“If you bring a place right off the Connector there on Merchant Street, those stores are going to develop,” Jarman said. “The area is going to bring people in from all over West Virginia and the neighboring areas.”
Marion County Board of Education President Mary Jo Thomas attended the meeting and said the museum project could be an opportunity to give Fairmont a signature attraction, for those in the area and outside of it.
“I think we have some wonderful possibilities there that we can work this out,” Thomas said.
Harvey, too, said the possibilities of just the museum could expand the possibilist of the city and Marion County, because of the investment into the community a project like this would be.
“This is not only about having children coming and playing,” Harvey said. “This is about giving to the community.”
With more planning still to come, Jarman said he would still like to have contributions from more community leaders and residents, in order to find out what is wanted out of a children’s museum.
“I don’t want this to be the the Family Resource Network’s museum,” Jarman said. “I want this to be Marion County’s museum, and it’s going to take all of us.”