Megan Jones and Angie McCaulley have a vision.
Their shared vision is to give Spencer families a place where their children can play, learn and interact with other children.
That place will be called WonderLab. It’s home likely will be the old post office building at 21 West Fifth Street that used to house Bogenrief Studios.
“This is a place where kids can just be kids,” said Jones. “This is not going to be a museum, although a lot of people call it a children’s museum. This is a play place, an indoor play space for kids.”
Right now, further construction work is expected to begin on the post office this spring. Hopefully, WonderLab will open later in the summer.
Until then, Jones, the Iowa House District 1 representative, and McCaulley, an architect, are continuing to drum up interest and fundraise for WonderLab.
What can kids expect at WonderLab?
Once it’s ready, WonderLab will closely resemble similar facilities in larger cities that Jones and McCaulley said area families already visit.
Like those play places and children’s museums, Wonderlab will be interactive and play-based. That’s why the term “museum” is a bit misleading.
Jones and McCaulley want Wonderlab to have a lot for kids to do, including a Farm-to-Fork exhibit, where children can take part in every part of that process, from simulating planting crops in a field to pretending that they’re shopping for groceries.
“Kids will really be able to go right from the field to the grocery store,” Jones said. “And hopefully we’ll be able to get a play kitchen in there, too.”
Their other exhibit ideas so far include a “noodle jungle” made of pool noodles and a maker-space where kids can build crafts. They also have planned a plexiglass window for writing and painting, as well as a jungle gym.
Financing for WonderLab and some of its exhibits has already begun. Late last year, WonderLab received a $7,600 Renaissance Grant from the city.
“The grant that we received was for a ball wall that uses tubes and you kind of explore aerodynamics,” McCaulley said. “So that we envision to be part of kind of a larger construction and engineering-type exhibit. More physics and construction-based.”
The planning duo wants something for every child to do.
“This will be welcoming for every kid, not just the creative kids and not just the analytical kids,” Jones said. “This is a wide variety for everybody.”
Will people come to WonderLab?
WonderLab should draw visitors, Jones and McCaulley believe, because Spencer area families already drive to similar play spaces in cities further away.
“I think we’ve heard enough feedback from people that drive to Sioux City, that drive to Sioux Falls, that drive to Iowa City, Minneapolis, Mankato,” McCaulley said. “We’ve heard from enough people that it could very well, and when done at the right scale, have a larger draw.”
She added that their hope is for WonderLab to become part of an “economic development engine.” They hope families will visit, get coffee or lunch and spend the afternoon in town.
“I think it has the potential to become something really amazing,” McCaulley said.
They’ve heard – and have gotten help while developing the idea – from people in nearby communities, including Emmetsburg, Hartley and Spirit Lake.
“People are happy to drive that (distance to Spencer),” Jones said. “It’s rough to drive to Sioux Falls and Sioux City to do this, but a lot of people do it. It’s pretty common, especially for a little day trip. But we need a place where families and kids can burn some energy.”
McCaulley said they hear from a lot of people how much Spencer needs something like what they’re planning. Families have told them WonderLab would be a great place to take their kids.
“You can stop in with your kids and spend a Saturday afternoon,” McCaulley said.
WonderLab also will be a place that stays open year-round. It also will give families an indoor option when the weather outside doesn’t cooperate, especially in colder months.
“We have a great trail system and we have great parks here and this is just a logical extension of that,” Jones said. “Just being able to have an indoor space.”
Not just for kids, but also parents
Parents could benefit from WonderLab in many ways, too, Jones and McCaulley said.
It could be a place for friends to meet and bring their kids for family playdates. Newcomers could visit to meet people, as well.
That’s something Jones has heard about while planning WonderLab.
“They just want a place where families can meet other people,” she said. “We’re really trying to target those young families and help incorporate them into our community and kind of help them meet other families, too.”
Backed by the community
In addition to help from the city, the WonderLab effort has gotten help from many in the community. Several service clubs and other entities have donated money or resources.
Since beginning their planning and fundraising in July 2018, Jones and McCaulley discovered that similar ideas have sprouted in the past. That helped WonderLab gain momentum rather quickly.
“We just realized that there’s a lot of interest in putting something like this together,” Jones said. “And there’s been a lot of people who have explored a lot further than I had. Some of the people on our team have business plans, they have their balance sheets and everything already to go. It’s just a matter of getting it done.”
All that was needed, she added, was “that final push to get it done.”
One of the biggest hurdles for others wanting to plan something like WonderLab has been how to make it work financially. Jones and McCaulley have been out in the community seeking donations to get it established.
They’ve explored more funding options, too.
“We’ve been looking at maybe a daily rate and then a membership pass,” McCaulley said. “The donations more so to go toward the nuts and bolts of the facility and operations.”
To make sure WonderLab lasts, they’ll also look to establish a board and hire staff, including a director.
Follow Wonderlab updates on Facebook
Jones and McCaulley invited anyone interested in following WonderLab’s progress to request to join its Facebook group. Though the group is private, they want people to join and stay updated.
Community members interested in donating to WonderLab can contact McCAulley at 515-979-4564 or via email.
Feature image: WonderLab received a grant from the city to help fund a ball wall like the one pictured here. (Photo by Megan Jones)