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United Services outlines details for its proposed $25 million children’s museum

By: Brian Flinchpaugh


United Services CEO Denise Liebel shares plans for the Midwest Children’s Museum with LSL aldermen on June 6.

A new children’s museum that supporters say could be a “destination” attraction for Lake Saint Louis may become reality – if its prime proponent can raise the money needed to build it.

United Services for Children, a prominent nonprofit agency that has provided therapy and preschool education for children, recently outlined more details about its ongoing efforts to explore the possibility of creating a children’s museum. The details were presented at a special Board of Aldermen meeting on June 6 and included conceptual drawings for a 54,000-square-foot, two-story building, with 40,000 square feet of space for exhibits and classrooms.

The museum has a $25 million price tag; a proposed location on 4.7 acres just east of Interstate 64 in The Meadows of Lake Saint Louis; possible partnerships with the city and The Meadows owner, Cohen Equities; and a name – the Midwest Children’s Museum. The final detail – yet to be put in place – is the ability to pay for it.

Denise Liebel, president and CEO for United Services, told aldermen and city officials that the museum plans to launch its fundraising efforts at a June 22 meeting. She said as many as 200 key stakeholders will be asked to help “open the right doors” for raising money. United Services is working with The Rome Group, a St. Louis-based nonprofit consulting firm, on fundraising and development plans.

Liebel said the agency wants to determine in a “concentrated period of time” if the community has an appetite for the project.

“If we determine over the next 10 weeks that there are people out there [who] will commit to this, then we’re full steam ahead,” Liebel said. “But if people say it’s a really great idea but we don’t have the money for it, then we’re going to say it’s a really great idea but maybe the timing wasn’t right.”

Liebel said the group has commitments worth about $2.5 million now. “If we know in the next 10 weeks that we have over $10 million in commitments, we would be motivated to get going,” she added.

United Services has been studying the idea for three years. The idea arose out of changes in how preschool care and therapy are being provided. School districts now provide services that were once contracted through United Services. The agency, which is a United Way of Greater St. Louis member, has provided children’s services for more than 40 years out of its location at 4140 Old Mill Parkway in St. Peters.

The museum would include classrooms for pediatric therapy, early intervention and preschool programs that are still conducted by the agency. “This allows us to live out our mission in an incredibly enhanced environment,” Liebel said.

United Services staff visited a number of children’s museums around the country to get an idea of what might work in the St. Charles market. Then, last year, Liebel quietly briefed local businesses, organizations and governments, such as the Lake Saint Louis board and the St. Charles County Library District Board of Trustees, about the museum.

The plans and concept drawings, unveiled on June 6, were produced by M+H Architects of St. Louis.

There are already children’s museums in the St. Louis region, such as the Magic House and City Museum in St. Louis, that are outstanding facilities, Liebel said in an interview last August. However, population growth is shifting to the western part of the St. Louis region and families to the west of St. Charles County may be attracted to a more local museum.

Liebel said the agency’s museum would be designed from the ground up and not use another building that has to be retrofitted, with accessibility being the priority for all visitors.

Michael Deane, an associate with M+H, described a museum space that is open, utilizes natural light, is architecturally unique and a complement to The Meadows. Liebel said the museum would have interactive exhibits and be primarily designed for children up to age 8. “We want to design it in such a way that the 8-year-old’s parents also get intrigued and drawn into different exhibits,” she said.

Liebel added that the museum will have a number of impacts.

“For Lake Saint Louis, it will put you on the map as a destination for tourism for sure,” she told the aldermen, “and this is an economic development project for sure.” She added that the project will generate jobs and construction, and will attract more shoppers and retailers to The Meadows.

The agency’s 2014 marketing and research study suggested that the museum would draw 190,000 people during its first year. Liebel said that, at the time of the study, they didn’t know the Wentzville School District would continue to grow as quickly as it has or that a first shift would be added to the nearby General Motors Corp. assembly plant. Those changes mean more people may be attracted to a museum, she said.

Cohen Equities has offered to give United Services three acres on which to build the museum. Lake Saint Louis officials have said that, if the museum moves forward, they may purchase almost two acres adjacent to the museum site for use as a public park.

Board members were enthusiastic during M+H’s presentation of drawings and plans.

“I think we’re a little quiet over here because we’re so surprised,” said Alderman John Pellerito [Ward 3]. The museum offers great visibility from Interstate 64, he said. “It’s very exciting.”

Pellerito said the city has always viewed The Meadows as a destination attraction. The museum “would be the icing on [the] cake,” he said.

Mayor Kathy Schweikert said the museum helps establish The Meadows as a town center for the community, something a comprehensive plan study indicates residents want. “This is just perfect,” Schweikert said. “I think our residents will be excited.”

Liebel could not place a time frame on when she would like to see the museum doors open to the public.

She said it isn’t unusual for a project like this to take 10 years to become a reality.

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