Over the next three years, the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum (MHCM) in Poughkeepsie, NY will be developing and building an exciting and bold new museum campus along the city’s waterfront. “It feels like the stars are aligning,” says Lara Litchfield-Kimber, Executive Director of the MHCM.
The expanded campus, “The Museums at Upper Landing,” will be built on the Upper Landing Property, which currently includes a pocket park along Poughkeepsie’s northern waterfront and will eventually be home to four museums, including the Children’s Museum, which borders the property. The park and surrounding properties were previously owned by The Dyson Foundation, who, in late 2017, sent out a call for development proposals from nonprofits in the Hudson Valley to take stewardship of the property.
The MHCM had already been weighing their options for the museum itself after realizing that their current space was nearly at capacity. Litchfield-Kimber says they were considering more expansions to the museum and had even thrown the idea of relocating the museum on the table when they were invited by the Foundation to submit a proposal on what they would do should they take ownership of the land. “The timing of everything was really exciting,” Litchfield-Kimber says.
Dyson Foundation President Andrea Reynolds said in a press release that the Foundation chose the MHCM because their proposal offered a more compelling plan for the restoration of the property, adding that their goal had always been to transfer stewardship of the land to a responsible nonprofit who would keep the public’s interest in mind during development. “We think the Children’s Museum offers a plan that fulfills that goal,” she said.
While actual construction on the site won’t start for three years, work for Litchfield-Kimber and her planning team has already begun. For the next year, the MHCM will be studying the property, which includes determining the feasibility of transforming the two vacant, yet historic buildings on the Upper Landing Property – the Reynolds and Hoffman houses – into a new science center. In June of next year, the ownership of the property will officially transfer to the MHCM. This not only includes the vacant lots, but the Upper Landing Park itself, which Litchfield-Kimber says the MHCM will maintain.
So, what exactly is the MHCM’s goal in transforming this property into a museum campus?
“We’re really trying to invent the science center of the future,” Litchfield-Kimber says. “This is a really fast-living laboratory for us in terms of how we can take what has worked well in science centers in particular and turn it into something that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”
The MHCM envisions a new campus that will preserve public green space and waterfront access with the continued maintenance of the Upper Landing Park, while simultaneously restoring and repurposing the two historically significant houses into two brand new museums focused on science education. “The fact that we’re a technology corridor without a science museum is interesting and kind of sad,” says Litchfield-Kimber. “This is our opportunity.”
Litchfield-Kimber, who comes from a science museum background, says she’s particularly excited to introduce more science and math-driven educational content to the Poughkeepsie community. “We do get a lot to get families comfortable and ready for a lifelong museum habit,” she says, “but I would love to be able to offer more for older kids.” The Museums at Upper Landing will transform the two historic buildings on the property into science centers targeted at older children and teenagers, something Litchfield-Kimber is very passionate about. “We realized that each of these buildings could be built out into their own spaces so we could take a scaffolding type of approach to engaging families as their kids grow,” she says.
As the home of IBM, the Hudson Valley as a whole has the potential to become a hub for science-loving students – particularly those interested in STEM – to further their education. Litchfield-Kimber says that technology companies, schools, and colleges in the Hudson Valley had begun to express concern that they didn’t have a natural space for students to grow, or the resources to attract and encourage students in STEM to stay local, which is where the MHCM’s new campus comes in. “We see a way to contribute to our community in a real regional way that will allow students who are coming up through our pipeline to not feel that to get ahead, they have to leave [the Hudson Valley],” she says.
Initial concepts for the campus include the transformation of the Hoffman House into a science center for younger children; the Reynolds Building becoming science center for teens and adults that would explore issues at the cross-section of science and society; and the renovation of the MHCM’s Pavilion into a food hub that would also serve as a museum, event space, and culinary center for families.
“It is not often that a new science center or museum opens its doors, making this potential project a special prospect for the Hudson Valley Region,” said Cristin Dorgelo, President and CEO of the Association of Science-Technology Centers, in a press release distributed by the MHCM.
“We’re really excited to see how we can create a canvas that can change up pretty regularly, and also be a hub for really important community conversations,” Litchfield-Kimber says.
More information on the Mid-Hudson Children’s Museum can be found here.
Photos courtesy of the Mid-Hudson Children's Museum. Words by Sarah Heikkinen.