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Children’s museum ‘INKs’ deal for new location

Interactive Neighborhood for Kids campaign seeks $4.2 million

POSTED: April 30, 2014 11:51 p.m.

A young boy recently read the sign over the doors of the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids.

“It said ‘Kids at Work,’” INK Founder and Executive Director Sheri Hooper recalled. “He said, ‘Kids at work? What do you mean?’ He had never been through before. I said, ‘Oh, you just wait and see.’”

A while later, Hooper ran into the boy inside the children’s museum.

“He was just going at it, playing and just having so much fun. And I said, ‘You know what? That’s your work. Kids are supposed to play.’

“He looked at me and was still a little bit confused,” she said, laughing. “But I knew he got it.”

The Gainesville-based nonprofit formally announced Tuesday its intention to build a new “state-of-the-art” museum in South Hall.

For Hooper, it’s a dream realized from her earliest days in 2002, in a 5,000-square-foot building in downtown Gainesville. She moved the museum to its current location at the Warren Featherbone Communiversity building, 999 Chestnut St. SE, in 2006, tripling the amount of space.

INK is often called a children’s museum, yet it’s anything but what a traditional museum looks like.

“It’s just a neighborhood that’s been condensed to the size that a child would feel very comfortable in exploring and learning,” Hooper explained. “Our name describes it completely.”

The upcoming location is planned just off Exit 8 on Interstate 985. It remains in Hall County, but within the Buford city limits. Hooper thinks this location will provide more access to all of North Georgia residents.

“We’ve been researching zip codes now for five, six years,” she said. “We will be in the center of our market down there. We have so many people coming from Gwinnett, Fulton, Forsyth.”

In 2013, INK welcomed more than 70,000 people with an income of $431,000. Hooper has identified a potential reach of nearly 420,000 people; she believes the new location with 50,000-square-feet will increase those visitation numbers.

“We’ll be adding more businesses, more avenues,” she said about the building plans. “The state of Georgia has recently ... adopted career clusters, along with their educational component within the school system. Our plans are to create those career clusters as avenues within our museum to where teachers, if they’re going through a certain career cluster at that point, they can come and bring their classroom.”

By “avenues,” Hooper means the streetscapes developed inside the INK building. Miniature businesses sprawl across the current 25,000-square-feet space; a dentist’s office sits across from a “Broadway” stage, where children can create and perform plays or musical pieces. The path leads to a doctor’s office, complete with medical uniforms and X-ray demonstrations. Across the way, law enforcement vehicles are parked for children to climb in and out.

There are replicas of several career environments, from a mock courtroom to a dairy featuring a cow named Buttercup. In another corner, a rehabilitated airplane sits open for children to explore.

“Really, what we’re doing is just trying to bring those together to make them a better educational component for the classroom yet keep it very lively and open and a great place to explore,” Hooper said.

An anonymous land donation is making the new South Hall building possible, but the nonprofit has to raise an additional $2 million and begin construction by the summer of 2015.

The total cost of the building is expected to be $4.2 million. Hooper hopes to raise that total amount so more can be spent on children’s programming — for more “kids at work.”

Annabelle Fewell, 5, and her older brother Alexander, 7, were hard at work Wednesday in the animal hospital portion of the neighborhood.

While Annabelle tended to Ginger, a stuffed cat with a cough, her brother gave some tips on what he’d like to see in a new, expanded location.

“My first visit, the area with the airplane, they had like a skating rink,” Alexander said. “That was fun. But they took that away.”

“It’s really good to hear from you,” Hooper said to the 7-year-old. “If you have areas that you love, I need to hear those so that we can make sure it happens.”

“Well, I wish we could drive that car over there,” he said.

Hooper said it is possible for a virtual driving course to be installed, though that’s well into the future.

While growing by leaps and bounds, it’s ultimately all about the children, Hooper said.

“Having that core area to where we can reach the majority of kids in North Georgia, to allow them to be able to explore different careers, different areas, so that when they grow up, they’re living life as a passion,” Hooper said of her ultimate goal for INK. “That it’s not just a job. They’re doing something that they love to do.

“Wouldn’t that make the world so much better?”


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