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INK hopes children are playing in its museum again by spring. Here’s how you can help make that happen
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Interactive Neighborhood for Kids founder Sheri Hooper surveys the children's museum Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018. Cleanup and sanitation of the museum is complete from the September flooding, but repairs are still underway. - photo by Scott Rogers

Interactive Neighborhood for Kids plans to reopen by the spring, months after a flood devastated the family-oriented attraction that features hands-on exhibits.

“That’s our drop-dead date, because we have 5,000 kids scheduled to come here in March,” founder Sheri Hooper said during a visit last week. “So, we hope (to reopen) much sooner.

“As many people we can get in here to help volunteer and make donations, the sooner we can get open.”

Hooper, staff and volunteers have been in cleanup mode since disaster struck in mid-September, when a small fire set off the sprinkler system in the pottery studio area.

“We’ve gone through every emotion possible,” Hooper said.

INK, which is in the Featherbone Communiversity at 999 Chestnut St. in Gainesville, allows families to explore kid-sized exhibits such as a grocery store, dentist office and post office.

“We strive to let your child's imagination run wild while learning about the world around them,” INK’s website states.

The museum’s closing hasn’t been just heartbreaking for staff.

Hooper said the museum gets frequent calls from parents checking to see if INK has reopened.

How to help the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids rebuild
  • Make a gift card donation or direct contribution at www.inkfun.org/donate/
  • Volunteer to clean up by contacting Executive Director Mandy Volpe at mandy@inkfun.org or 770-536-1900.
  • Stay up to date on INK’s progress by visiting its Facebook page.

“Families come to the door every day wanting to come in and play,” she said.

Water especially damaged exhibits and flooring, but “we had a great company in here that rid the place of any hazardous materials,” said Mandy Volpe, executive director. “So, it’s completely safe for the kids to be in here.

Hooper added, “If (an item) had the potential of creating mold, it went into the dumpster. It is not in this place.”

Insurance is helping cover areas damaged by water, but “then there are other areas that had been loved to death that we’re trying to revamp and renew so that we can create a beautiful environment when people walk through the door,” Hooper said.

“That funding has to come out of our pockets, so any volunteers and any donations we can get are greatly appreciated.”

Before the flooding, the museum had been looking to move to a new, larger location in South Hall.

“We did find a building that was ready to go, and we had a verbal commitment … but all of it fell through,” Hooper said. “We fully believe God has a plan for us, and that plan is not to move immediately.”

So INK is staying put for now.

“Even though it’s temporary, there’s major excitement going on and a great energy here,” Hooper said.

Volunteers are coming in this week as INK moves forward in putting into place “what we need in each room, whether it be painting, recovering floors or building something,” she said.

A Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce after hours event is set at INK for Dec. 18.

“At whatever state we’re in, people can see the progress we’ve made, and see the needs,” Hooper said.

The chamber’s after hours events are typically open to members and non-members for a charge.

“Our long-term goal is to build (a new museum), to make it what we want, and we’ve got a couple of feelers out there,” Hooper said. “The next few weeks are going to be very vital in learning that direction and how quickly to go there.”

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Alicia Simmons, left, and Danner Weeks take apart a piece of play equipment Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018, inside the Interactive Neighborhood for Kids in Gainesville. Some items are being thrown out following a September flood. - photo by Scott Rogers
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