Children's museum closing its doors for now

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— The Hands-On! Children's Museum may have found a new home, pending a deal to purchase property in downtown Steamboat.

Tibby Speare, executive director of the museum, said she wouldn't say where the property is located, but she and a group of investors are looking into buying a commercial property near where the museum originally was on Eighth Street.

"It is very exciting," Speare said. "We have a lot of work cut out for us."

The plan is for the group of investors, with help from private donations, to purchase the property, and then the museum would take two years to buy it from the investors. If the plan works, Speare said the goal to have the museum up and running before next winter could be realized.

Saturday was the last day the Hands-On! Children's Museum was open, because the lease at its 41 Eighth St. home was up. Speare and her staff were aware that a move was right around the corner, even when the museum first opened its doors nearly a year and a half ago. She signed a short-term lease, which originally was for only four months. It was extended, allowing the museum to stay open a year longer than expected. The landlord also let the museum not pay rent for the last two months.

Though the extra time was coveted, Speare said it ended up being a bittersweet situation. The time was just long enough to get comfortable in the building and recognized by the community. But it also enabled her to realize that a children's museum is something the community would support.

"There are so many feelings. It's been a wonderful ride," she said.

Speare came up with the idea for a children's museum a few years ago after visiting a similar museum in Massachusetts with her children. She envisioned a gathering place, as well as a hands-on museum aimed at young children, for locals to see as a community centerpiece. She pretty much succeeded, too. At last count, more than 9,000 people had visited the museum and local community groups used the building for their functions.

"I think it's because of the charm of it," Speare said. "Our exhibits were made on a grassroots level."

The exhibits included a construction room with lots of different tools for children to play with; an art room, ranch room and the "final frontier" room with a huge "air maze" for kids to crawl through.

The new building would hold similar exhibits, but the space is smaller than the museum's current space on Eight Street. However, the location is better, Speare said.

"You can just totally see us there," she said.

If it all works out, several families will be waiting for the doors to open, including Jotie Rojas and her 5-year-old son, Armando, from the Meeker area.

They only found out about the museum earlier this week and made the trip to Steamboat Wednesday just for the occasion.

"I was so disappointed to hear it was closing," Rojas said.

Armando cried when the two had to leave for home on Wednesday, so she promised they would return on Saturday.

"We came all the way, just to be here on the last day," she said.

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