Topeka In its first six months of being open for business, the Kansas Children's Discovery Center has had nearly 50,000 visitors from 47 states and nine foreign countries.
And the future looks bright, said Joanne Morrell, Discovery Center's executive director.
"It's surreal," Morrell said. "I think in my mind, there was never the possibility of it not happening because of the great collective vision of the community and the incredible support and momentum behind it."
The Discovery Center, 4400 S.W. 10th Ave., is on pace to have about 50,000 visitors by the end of December and 97,000 visitors by the end of its first year, which will be June 2012.
Studies show the summer months of June, July and August will represent one-third of the Discovery Center's annual attendance, Morrell said. In July this year, about 15,000 people visited. The center had between 400 to 700 visitors each day.
The Discovery Center opened in June 2011, Morrell said, and construction started on the Outdoor Learning Environment in April.
"As additional funds are raised, we will continue to add to the outdoor space," she said. "About $800,000 would complete the outdoor space."
The outdoor exhibit area plans include an indoor-outdoor sunflower climber, an outdoor classroom, a water exhibit, an archeological dig, a prairie butterfly garden and Monarch way station, wooded trails, gardens and landscaping. A quarter-mile walking path and trike area already complete.
The outdoor area should open to the public next summer, Morrell said.
"It puts us on the cutting edge of children's museum and positions us to be one of the top in the nation," she said of the outdoor space.
A new creative play area designed by Discover Center board of trustee Bill Anderson opened in November. Flo-Graphix is an interactive media display that allows children to use black lights and fluorescent shapes to make three-dimensional designs.
Another new area called Moneyville has been a huge hit with older children and adults. It is a financial literacy exhibit that teaches children the basics of money management.
A total of $7.3 million has been generated for the center, Morrell said, and the annual operating budget is about $750,000, which includes salaries, programming and education.
Funding comes from one-third of gate sales, one-third of earned income, such as birthday parties and camps, and one-third comes from annual support, Morrell said.
"It's really our volunteers who make a significant difference," she said. "We couldn't do it without them."
About 230 volunteers, six full-time staff members and seasonal employees keep the center running smoothly, Morrell said.
Recently, children and adults were learning, playing and creating.
Sisters Jessica and Rachel Wu were getting a little extra help from their father, Lambert Wu, in the Build Area.
Wu, who also is a member of the board, said he tries to bring his family to the Discovery Center at least once a week.
Rachel, 6, and Jessica, 8, said they enjoy the Kansas Grain Gallery, where children measure, pour, shovel, lift, hoist and transport grain on conveyor belts, pulleys, augers and levers, and the Careers Gallery, where children can own and operate their own restaurant.
There are a lot of exciting exhibits and camps planned for the coming months, including winter and spring break camps and a Martin Luther King Jr. celebration, Morrell said.
"We took the best of the best interactive exhibits from across the nation and brought them to Topeka," she said of the center. "It's been really exciting to see the community's response."