Junior League moves on children's museum plans

Tim Alexander

Funding for a long-planned Peoria children’s museum may have received a big boost when the Hotel Pere Marquette selected the Junior League of Peoria and its Peoria PlayHouse project to be the beneficiary of its fourth annual Hotel Pere Marquette Charitable Gala.

“We are very excited to have been selected this year,” said Emily Cahill of the junior league.

“The proceeds we raise will support the junior league in its projects, the biggest of which is

Peoria PlayHouse, our effort to bring a children’s museum to Peoria.”

The junior league has been actively seeking donations for its Peoria PlayHouse project for three years. The proposed hands-on, interactive museum, comprised of six exhibit galleries with components tied to Illinois Learning Standards for Early Childhood Education, would be housed in the Glen Oak Pavilion. The structure has served as the home office of the Peoria Park District for many years, but the park district is planning a move to a bigger facility.

Cahill said Peoria PlayHouse will target children ages birth to eight years with exhibits tied to Peoria’s past and present. 

“The six interactive exhibits were developed by exhibit designers in collaboration with community leaders,” she said.

“Peoria helped define what’s going to go in the museum.”  

The exhibits will take the form of themed areas, such as “family farm,” “construction,” “the river,” “vaudeville,” “historic time line” and a sports “motion commotion” area, said Cahill.

There are plans to convert the pavilion’s wooden porch into a giant, enclosed sandbox and castle-building area where kids can play.

Consultants insisted a children’s museum should reflect its community. For that reason, Cahill said there are major differences between Peoria PlayHouse and Bloomington/Normal’s Children’s Museum.       

“We believe the (PlayHouse) will help build lifelong museum-goers,” said Cahill.

“Research shows that if kids and families go to children’s museums, they are much more likely to go on a regular basis to a community museum such as the planned (Peoria) Riverfront Museum.

We see the need for both (PlayHouse and the Riverfront Museum) in the community; together they will make the community stronger. (PlayHouse) is an important puzzle piece needed to help make Peoria a place where young professionals want to come and raise families.”

While Cahill wants the public to know the PlayHouse project is not in competition with the Riverfront Museum proposal, the junior league understands that philanthropic dollars are being squeezed tightly right now due to the uncertain economy and the multitude of area projects relying on public and corporate sponsorship.

“All of the projects put forth for this community are valuable,” Cahill said, “and we understand that because of the economy and the number of things going on in the community, it might take a little while longer to (bring the PlayHouse project to fruition) that we originally thought.”

The junior league is committed to raising $5.25 million for the project, a goal that is almost 50 percent complete. Cahill said it is hard to place a time line on when Peoria PlayHouse will take its next step toward reality.