A children’s museum is no longer in the future of Brainerd’s Lum Park.

After clashing with city officials over site designs, Region Five Children’s Museum representatives officially cut ties with Brainerd in a letter to City Administrator Jennifer Bergman dated Nov. 17.

“Please accept this letter as notice for ending the involvement of Region 5 Children’s Museum in the site master planning of Lum Park,” the letter, signed by Museum Project Director Peter Olson said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to explore the possibilities with everyone on the task force.”

Lum Park was chosen out of several proposals earlier this year as the spot to locate an educational children’s museum to serve the Region Five area of Cass, Crow Wing, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties. A task force to create a master site plan then formed with Region Five board members, along with representatives from the city council, parks board, planning commission, Economic Development Authority and the community at large.

Over the last month, city council and parks board members reported disagreement with Region Five officials over the placement of the museum. The city’s original intention was to offer up existing buildings near the park’s entrance that were recently vacated by parks staff after a remodel of city hall. Those at Region Five, however, wanted to explore more options within the park.

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City council and parks board members expressed frustration when discussing the subject at a meeting Nov. 9. Parks Board Vice Chair Kevin Yeager said the city made it clear from the first task force meeting which space would be designated for the museum so as not to disrupt the rest of Lum Park, which includes a campground, disc golf course and volleyball courts, among other amenities. But as discussions went on, Yeager and Mayor Dave Badeaux said they felt their wishes were not being respected.

When faced with the decision to cut ties with Region Five at that time, city council members agreed to continue working on the master plan and try to come to some sort of agreement.

Two designs for the Region Five Children's Museum proposed for Lum Park involve placing the facility farther into the park than city officials want. The rectangular gray figure represents the museum. Rendering courtesy of Widseth
Two designs for the Region Five Children's Museum proposed for Lum Park involve placing the facility farther into the park than city officials want. The rectangular gray figure represents the museum. Rendering courtesy of Widseth

In response to the discussion at the Nov. 9 meeting, Olson said Region Five has always aimed to put the museum in a spot that’s most beneficial to the children it would serve, and his understanding was the task force was set up to determine the best spot within the park. In his Nov. 17 letter, Olson said Region Five did not feel the city’s wants were conducive to the museum.

“While the site master planning process brought forward many benefits to locating the Children’s Museum in Lum Park, the area designated by the City Council and Park Board separates our audience from the Park’s amenities inhibiting the overall visitor experience and posing too great a safety risk for young children,” Olson wrote. “The vehicular traffic around the designated area and between that area and the other park amenities, creates a barrier in how families with young children can directly and safely access the park and to the beneficial experiences it provides.”

At a parks board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 24, Parks Director Tony Sailer said the two groups were ultimately at an impasse. Yeager applauded the city council, parks board and task force members for standing their ground and not backing down under pressure.

“This speaks volumes about what we are as a board and what we value,” Yeager said. “... I believe that this will go down as one of those gigantic decisions that no one will remember. If I can think of what this might have looked like 50 years from now or 35 years from now, nobody will remember what we did and the ground that we stood. But I believe that we all did absolutely the right thing by preserving our green space and saying that our concerns were valid, and we stuck by those.”

Sailer reminded everyone the city and the parks board are still 100% behind a children’s museum being located in Brainerd.

“It’s unfortunate that things couldn’t work out with Lum Park, but everybody that I’ve talked to really has a backing for such a thing to be brought into the community,” Sailer said.

Region Five will continue hunting for a suitable spot for a children’s museum in the five-county area.

“As we continue our search for the optimal site for the new children’s museum, we remain fully committed to doing our part to ensure the children of the region grow up with the benefits of their own children’s museum,” Olson’s letter stated. “We wish the Brainerd City Council and the park Board all the best as they continue to improve park experiences in the City of Brainerd. Thank you for your leadership in this process and your support of the children’s museum’s vision for a more vibrant and connected region where all children enjoy the supportive relationships, expanding opportunities, and the wellbeing they need to thrive.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.