Wonder Workshop gets a new home — but the building still needs work

By Corene Brisendine

Richard Pitts, director of Wonder Workshop in Manhattan, has been seeking a new home for the workshop’s children’s museum for seven years, and has finally found one.

The Bethel AME Church was looking at tearing down or moving a building it owns at 506 N. Fourth St. Pitts said when they found out that church officials wanted to unload the building in 2011, he contacted them about the possibility of making it the museum’s new home.

“After an eight-month negotiation, we came to a conclusion to take over the building, but it is in great disarray,” Pitts said. “Whoever lived there before, they trashed the place.”

He said the building needs plumbing, painting, roofing, a hot water heater, air conditioning, carpet and handicap accessibility — just to name a few of the major repairs needed before the building can be opened for business. Pitts said the board of directors signed a 20-year contract with the church for use of the building. Under the agreement, the Wonder Workshop must maintain the building, including utilities, repairs and insurance, in exchange for a rent-free location to house the children’s museum.

Prior to 2004, Pitts said the museum was located at 821 Poyntz Ave., where it had a loose agreement with USD 383 occupying one of the school district’s buildings on Poyntz. Then, hard times hit the school district, and the school board decided to sell that building the museum used on Poyntz, Pitts said. As a result, the children’s museum was moved to the camping grounds at Tuttle Creek Lake, where Wonder Workshop holds camping events during the summer.

As a result of signing the contract, Pitts said Wonder Workshop has closed the activities at the lake — the home base for the program for the past seven years — in order to focus all the attention on the new facility.

With a new building to renovate, Pitts said he is now focused on upcoming fundraising events to provide the money needed to start making repairs. Pitts said outreach programs such as the Classroom On Wheels, the Underground Railroad Tours and the summer camping events provide the organization with much-needed funding to improve the building.

The board also has applied for grants, but can’t yet count on receiving them, Pitts said.  If the grants come through, he said they will likely open by next summer. Otherwise, he said, it would take longer before the museum could be up and running.

“Realistically, I think we will be open sometime next year,” Pitts said. “If we don’t get much help and we have to do it all on our own, it will probably take another year, at least.”

The Wonder Workshop will give an Underground Railroad Tour on the last Saturday of October. All the proceeds from the tour will go to repairing the building on Fourth Street. Also, in November, the organization will hold a Soul Food Dinner, and that event also will benefit the building project.

Pitts said he will be glad to bring the children’s museum back into town, because he believes there is a definite need for such a facility.

“Once we get up and running, I’m sure we will be an attraction in the community,” Pitts said. “Our children’s museum is listed as one of the attractions, and we get lots of call. There are not a lot of hands-on opportunities for preschool through grade school attractions here.”

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