Renovations done on North Country Children’s Museum, more money needs to be raised to install second floor exhibits

Posted 6/13/24

POTSDAM — Renovations and repairs on the second floor of the Red Barn housing the North Country Children’s Museum at 10 Raymond St. are expected to be complete sometime this month.

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Renovations done on North Country Children’s Museum, more money needs to be raised to install second floor exhibits


POTSDAM — Renovations and repairs on the second floor of the Red Barn housing the North Country Children’s Museum at 10 Raymond St. are expected to be complete sometime this month.

The next stage of the project will be exhibit construction and installation, however the museum still needs to raise about $300,000 to meet the cost. About $3.4 million has been raised so far from donations and grants for the expansion project.

The second floor of the building, what was once storage space for a former tile company before NCCM moved into the building in 2018, is now clean, bright and spacious, with large windows facing towards the NCCM mural outside and Garner Park.

Museum Executive Director Sharon Vegh Williams says the space will be ready for exhibits once the last of the funding is raised.

The work on the second floor has been extensive thus far, with major infrastructure rebuilding required.  

“We had this part of the building, but this was like an add on in the 1840s,” Williams said, showing the north side of the upstairs, which now houses classrooms and offices. The other side of the building’s second floor, built in the 1820s, now housing a huge exhibit space, was constructed with post and beam and is “rock solid,” the director said. Then in the 1840s they ran out of space and added on.

“So it was kind of a little slopped together. So when we wanted to put a floor up here, the architect was like ‘You kind of have to rebuild this side of the building,’” she said.

Builders rebuilt the building back stronger, reconfiguring the classroom, spaces and elevator on the first floor as well.

Williams said the Red Barn building was renovated on the first floor’s southside when NCCM bought the property in 2018, after being a traveling museum for 7 years before that. The north end was then redone and while it was “functional” it just couldn’t support a second floor, Williams said.

But, the museum board members and Williams knew they would eventually expand upward into the second floor.

“We always knew we were going to open up here; it was just a matter of when and how,” Williams said. The advent of $1.4 million in DRI funding through the village of Potsdam for an expansion project in late 2018 helped make the goal achievable.

Northern Tier Contracting, the firm in charge of the reconstruction of the second floor, will wrap up the final renovations of the second floor exhibit space by the end of June, Williams said.

However, the classroom and office space on the second floor is being utilized already. “The upstairs, classroom, office, storage, bathrooms, elevator, stairs… that’s all fully renovated and ready to go,” said Williams.

The second floor also features a family resource/infant room.

Once the final funding amount has been raised, the nearly renovated exhibit space will eventually feature a physics and science section with a mural of Stone Valley painted along the wall. A 2/3-sized Amish homestead will occupy the opposite side of the vaulted room. In the middle will be a maple tree climber with science activities and at the other end of the space will be a performance space called Addie’s Opera House, based on the Edwards Opera House and named for the late Addie Green, a local girl who was involved in theater and who passed away from cancer. The theater space will feature much of what happens behind the scenes in stage productions.

The science exhibits on the second floor will include a cloud maker and a rainmaker.

A music and sound lab will occupy another section, where youngsters can experiment with sonic creation.

Above, at the top of the climber will eventually be a glass lookout at the peak of the building where youngsters can get a bird's eye look at the town.

The second floor exhibits are “weighted” for the 8-12 age group, the director said.   

The exhibits are being developed by Blue Rhino Designs in Toronto, except for the Amish Homestead which is being constructed by local Amish builders.

All of the exhibits will have a local connection. The Blue Rhino designers visited the region and toured local destinations to base exhibits on regional features and locations.

“We want it to feel like this place,” Williams said.

About 100 to 150 people from the area, and a children’s focus group, helped to develop ideas for the different interactive portions of the museum.

The museum is working with Karen Johnson Weiner, a well known scholar on Amish life, who is serving as a liaison between NCCM and the local Amish community to install the Amish homestead where children will learn about authentic Amish culture. “We are working with the community to tell a story about this group that lives in the North Country,” Williams said.

Fundraising and cost

“The project originally, the budget pre-COVID, was 1.9 (million dollars) for everything. (Now) It’s 3.7,” the director said.

Ninety-two percent of that total has been raised through state Downtown Revitalization Initiative money, grants, grassroots fundraising efforts and donations.

Some of those pledges will pay out after the project is done, Williams said.

“We are hoping to open in the summer of 2025,” she said. “So we are in the home stretch.”

“Because of… after COVID and everything, us and every project around the world doubled, we phased the project. So phase one was our exhibit design, so that’s done,” Williams said. “Phase 2 was the building renovation that will be done in June.”

“So now we are raising for the rest of the exhibit build,” Williams said.  

The museum has seen 22,000 visitors through its doors over the last year and Williams said projections are for 45,000 once the expansion is complete.

“We will enter a whole different phase,” she said.

Info: https://northcountrychildrensmuseum.org/.