Frankfort: KidsWork Museum on the Move

Thousands of children and their families have come to Frankfort for more than a decade to visit the KidsWork Museum. Officials recently announced they will move to larger quarters in the New Lenox Commons. (Photo by Karen Haave)
Thousands of children and their families have come to Frankfort for more than a decade to visit the KidsWork Museum. Officials recently announced they will move to larger quarters in the New Lenox Commons. (Photo by Karen Haave)

Officials with the KidsWork Museum said the new location in New Lenox will allow them more space for activities and visitors than its current location does in Downtown Frankfort. (Photo by Karen Haave)

 

By Karen Haave

Frankfort’s popular KidsWork Children’s Museum is moving to the New Lenox Village Commons, and local residents have mixed feelings about it.

That’s not surprising. The innovative learn-through-play facility long has been a point of pride for the village.

Many residents are thrilled that the new location will offer more space and financial stability, and understand the logic. But they also regret that the museum is leaving town.

The most prevalent question they are asking is how the village could let it go?

“The Village of Frankfort was recently made aware of the Kidswork Children’s Museum announcing a potential move to New Lenox,” Mayor Keith Ogle said.

“The Village of Frankfort had planned to have the Children’s Museum come to our next committee meeting as they had requested, to make a presentation about their future. We were not made aware that they would be making any final decision prior to this meeting.

“I spoke with Ms. Belinda Basso, Museum Board President, this morning, and she has agreed to attend the April 12th Committee of the Whole meeting as previously planned and make their presentation before the Frankfort Village Board and answer questions.

“The Village has been a long-time supporter of the museum, providing financial support since its inception. It is important for the residents to understand the financial impact taking over the museum would have on the Village’s budget as has been suggested by the museum leadership.

“We hope to have more information in the near future about this important matter.”

Basso confirmed that she will be there, but cautioned against Frankfort officials getting their hopes up.

“While the agreement with New Lenox is not yet officially signed, we have a verbal agreement in place that both New Lenox and the museum intend on honoring. As we are in the process of finalizing, the execution of the agreement is only days away, regardless.”

Baldermann told Farmers Weekly Review the village is using reserves to purchase land for the museum and for a major multi-sport complex planned for I-80 and I-355. Both were announced in a March 24 press conference.

“The village is assuming control of the museum, and (the museum) has healthy reserves and turns a substantial net profit,” Baldermann said. “We anticipate the sale of land for hotel and retail spaces near the sports complex, plus the hotel, amusement, and sales tax on that parcel and future development in that area to cover the costs. (There will be) no increase to taxpayers.”

Basso also said the move is “a wonderful opportunity for the museum and the greater Lincoln-Way area.

“We are more than excited to expand the museum to nearly double, with an additional outdoor space to serve families and the community.”

In a statement explaining the move, Basso said, “I am so excited to announce a new chapter for our beloved KidsWork Children’s Museum! We are expanding into a brand new, much larger space with many of the same exhibits that you know and love, but also adding many new exhibits your family is sure to enjoy. As I am sure you have heard, we are relocating, but don’t despair. We are staying in the Lincoln-Way area just a few miles down the road in New Lenox. We are still here for you!

“As a Frankfort resident, I really wanted to keep the museum in Frankfort,” Basso continued.

”The KWCM board has spent several years trying to align ourselves with Frankfort, either through the village, Frankfort Park District or Frankfort Square Park District partnering with the museum. Unfortunately, the opportunity to partner with the museum was declined.

“Until recently, our sole goal was to put the museum in the best position for long-term success by ensuring business continuity for ongoing management of the museum. Our board is amazing and completely volunteer. The museum has successfully grown to a size that a volunteer-only board is no longer the right fit.

“We are financially sound and in an excellent position for a municipality to partner with us, as we are self-sustaining. I am immensely proud of how tenacious and ingenious our board and staff guided the museum through the pandemic to emerge stronger than ever. Now is the time for us to take the next step in our evolution.

“Wearing my Frankfort resident hat, I was reticent to move the museum. However, wearing my KWCM Board President hat, I, and the board, have to do what’s best for the museum.

“Therefore, when we were presented with an amazing offer to partner with New Lenox, it was clear that we had to take the offer seriously. We took great care and due diligence in our decision. We communicated with the village and the park districts. In the end, moving to a space that is nearly double our current size, with an additional outdoor space, under the umbrella of the Village of New Lenox was too good to pass up.

“We will still serve the same Lincoln-Way area that we do today,” she said.

Mayor Tim Baldermann was delighted with the acquisition.

“We are very excited to be able to help the museum expand in a brand new building,” he said.

“The (village) board members are all supportive of this new project. We anticipate the total cost for the land, building and exhibits to be approximately $4 million. The new museum will be located near the entrance of the Village Commons. This will be a great amenity for all of Will County and beyond.”

The interactive play museum was founded in 2007 with seed money from the Village of Frankfort. Operating on a shoe-string budget in its early years, it has grown in popularity and draws more than 40,000 visitors annually to its Trolley Barn location in the village’s Downtown Historic Business District.

The museum’s current executive director and staff have been extended an offer to continue in the new site. They would become New Lenox village employees. The current board of directors will become an Advisory Committee.

Groundbreaking ceremonies and construction start are anticipated in June 2023.

Karen Haave is a freelance reporter. Editor Nick Reiher also contributed to this story.

Officials with the KidsWork Museum said the new location in New Lenox will allow them more space for activities and visitors than its current location does in Downtown Frankfort. (Photo by Karen Haave)

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