OGDEN — Though precise plans are still being hashed out, an Ogden city fixture is primed for a multimillion dollar expansion.
Executives from the Elizabeth Stewart Treehouse Museum say they’re working on a plan to build a new wing onto the nearly 17,000-square-foot downtown building — a venture that would double the museum’s current holding capacity.
Museum Executive Director Lynne Goodwin, Board Chair Cheri Walker and others briefed the Ogden City Council on the burgeoning plans earlier this week.
“It’ll be the Treehouse Museum,” Goodwin said. “But all grown up.”
Dedicated to educating children through interactive exhibits and programs, the museum opened 27 years ago in the old Ogden City Mall. Goodwin said during its inaugural year in 1992, 40,000 visitors came through the doors. Attendance quickly doubled the year after that and the organization now welcomes about 175,000 visitors each year at its Junction location on the corner of 22nd Street and Kiesel Avenue.
But the museum’s success and flourishing attendance has also brought growing pains. Goodwin said the current museum facility (which opened in 2006) was only designed to accommodate a yearly total of 125,000 visitors — 50,000 people less than what is now spilling through the doors.
Walker said the museum frequently hosts groups from local schools, but that lately the organization has had to turn away classes because bookings are full.
“We get instant feedback from parents and teachers who tell us what we should be doing in the future and its always the same,” Goodwin said, noting frequent calls by the public for more more exhibits and programs, spaces for older children, traveling exhibit space, classroom flex space and even more theater, art and music opportunities.
The facility also needs a freight elevator and more storage, Goodwin said. Treehouse currently rents five storage units off site and crews are often forced to lug heavy exhibit material up and down stairs.
“There are good reasons why we need to make a change,” Goodwin said.
Treehouse officials plan to use a recently purchased piece of property immediately west of the museum to construct the new wing. The organization is working with an architectural firm on preliminary design plans, but Goodwin said early estimates indicate the project would cost some $12 million.
Goodwin told the council Treehouse already has private funding pledges amounting to about $1.5 million, but would also like the board to consider contributing some sort of city redevelopment agency funding to the mix. Treehouse used some RDA funding during the relocation from the mall to The Junction.
If Treehouse officials can raise half of the money needed for construction, they would take out a construction loan and begin the project and continue working to secure the remaining funding, Goodwin said. The goal is to have the new wing built by 2022, the museum’s 30th anniversary.
“It’s important to keep in mind this isn’t some big, pie-in-the-sky dream,” Goodwin said. “The Treehouse is real, we’ve made it work for 27 years.”
Ogden Council Member Doug Stephens said the museum, which attracts thousands people to Ogden’s downtown every year, helps support the city economically and adds to it’s tax base.
“This is a project that needs the support of Ogden City and the communities around Weber County,” Stephens said.