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Children’s Museum to Provide a ‘Bright Spot’ for Sandy Hook

As Newtown, Conn. recovers from the December mass school shooting, the community is focusing on the future, and an updated plan for a new children’s museum.

“We’re more determined than ever to provide a positive place for our children and their families to spend their time.” says Kristin Chiriatti, a mother in Newtown, and the original organizer and president of the museum, to be called EverWonder.

Many children are still afraid to go to school, she says, after the rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, and may have lifelong poor associations with learning. She hopes the museum “will give them a bright spot to go to and enjoy learning.” It is scheduled to open by the end of 2015.

The project began in January 2011, when a group of volunteer parents, frustrated by the lack of nearby children’s museums, began to brainstorm building one of their own. The parents solicited feedback from the Newtown Public Schools and met with principals and K6 math and science teachers, who offered input on exhibit topics. The museum is set to feature interactive exhibits on magnetism, electricity, sound, weather, and the human body, geared toward children through age 12. The name EverWonder represents the curiosity the museum will evoke, Chiriatti says.

One of the first supporters of the effort was Sandy Hook Elementary School Principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the attack. The museum will include a memorial for the victims, Chiriatti says, celebrating childhood and education, but the specifics have yet to be decided.

The original plan was to house the museum in a new building requiring $4 million, but in November 2012, the parents considered renovating a 52,000-square-foot building on the Fairfield Hills Hospital campus instead. It wasn’t until after the events of December that the group decided to move forward with the larger location. The new effort will require $10 million, Chiriatti says, and a capital campaign will be launched in late spring.

And now the plan has national backing: After Robert Dean, executive director of the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum in Michigan, learned about the project, he contacted the Association of Children’s Museums, which launched an effort for museums nationwide to choose one day this year to donate $1 from each admission to the creation of the Newtown museum.

Chiriatti hopes the museum will help rebuild the town’s reputation, and reinforce the beauty and strength of the community. “It is healing, and a great focus for the community to put our positive energy into creating something for the future.”