A picture of a sad-faced clown and several "closed" signs greeted visitors to the Chesapeake Children's Museum in Annapolis yesterday -- the nonprofit attraction becoming homeless after five years in donated space at an Annapolis shopping center.
Volunteers were busy packing exhibits, fish tanks and art supplies for a move into storage until the staff can find a permanent site for the museum.
"We've really enjoyed our time here, and we have a lot of good memories," Deborah Wood, the museum's founder and executive director, said as she shuffled through boxes of recycled art supplies and toys. "But from the beginning, the whole deal was, 'We don't know how long this will last.' "
Wood and a small group of volunteers started the hands-on museum at Odenton Elementary School during the summer of 1994 and moved to the nearly 2,000-square-foot space at the Festival at Riva Road shopping center that September.
Madison Marquette Realty Services allowed the museum to stay in the shopping center rent-free for five years, but a sign company became interested in the space last fall and made a deal with management to move in next month, according to a property manager. The company, Signs of Distinction, is owned by The Baltimore Sun Co.
"We're hoping something big happens soon," Wood said. "We realized that we had outgrown the space a few years ago. A bigger space would really help us with our programming."
In addition to providing play space for small children and a gathering spot for parents, the Chesapeake Children's Museum offered programs for groups and has worked closely with area Girl Scout troops.
Wood said she would like to find a new space in the Annapolis area, with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet, but the decision would be up to its nine-member board of directors.
For now, educational and activity programs are being held at volunteers' homes and a local church, but the exhibits are on hold indefinitely. The church had no storage space, so the museum will spend hundreds of dollars a month on three self-storage units.
Everything from the big red couch salvaged from a neighboring children's restaurant to a 5-foot-tall doll named Stuffy will be in storage.
Popular with mothers
Wood said the children who visited the museum -- about 1,000 a month -- won't be the only ones to miss it.
"We became from the beginning a place where mommies could congregate," said Wood, a mother of two grown children. "The kids could run around and try things out, and the moms could watch or play with the kids or talk to each other."
Keeping it affordable
Admission was $3, but visitors could also get in by donating recyclable materials, such as plastic spools or empty toilet paper rolls, for the arts and craft center. Although the museum may need to pay rent in a new space, Wood said she wants to keep admission affordable.
Wood thinks any move the museum makes will be temporary, as she hopes to move into the old Bates High School on Smithville Street after the city finishes transforming the building into a community center.
"There's 10,000 square feet in the old cafeteria there that no one has said they want yet," Wood said. "Anywhere we go, we want to stay accessible."