PORTLAND — The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine is “bursting at the seams” in its building on Free Street and may move if it can find a suitable site and raise money for construction, says the president of the organization’s board.
Barbee Gilman said relocation is just one option being considered, although a commercial real estate broker sent out a “request for information” on Tuesday to landowners and other brokers in the city, inquiring about potential sites.
Gilman noted that the museum merged with the Children’s Theatre more than two years ago, but it doesn’t have a theater. Children’s productions are staged in a multipurpose room in the museum’s basement.
The request for information says the museum would like to find a new site by midsummer, but Gilman and Suzanne Olson, executive director of the museum, said that would be only a tentative first step toward moving.
Olson said the site selection would be followed by construction estimates by an architect and then a feasibility study to determine whether the museum would be able to raise enough money. That would be followed by a fundraising campaign, she said.
“It’s a challenging economic environment right now, and we can’t do anything for sure unless we know we can raise the money,” Gilman said.
If the museum can’t raise enough money to move, she said, it could renovate its current building.
The request for information says the museum is looking for a site in Portland, preferably on the peninsula, and easily accessible from – and possibly visible from – Interstate 295 and on or near bus routes.
A vacant lot would have to be large enough to permit construction of a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot building, parking area and possibly an outdoor play area, the request says.
If a property owner proposes an existing building, its first floor would have to be at least 13,000 square feet with 20-foot ceilings.
Mark Malone, the broker who sent out the request, said there probably are several properties that meet the criteria, although the museum could ultimately determine that none of the sites is right or within reach financially.
The museum draws about 100,000 visitors a year. It has an annual operating budget of about $1 million, and 1,800 family members.
The museum, founded in 1976, opened in the former Chamber of Commerce building at 142 Free St. in 1993. It merged with the Children’s Theatre of Maine in 2008.
Olson said the need for dedicated theater space is among the most pressing issues the museum could solve by moving. She said the multipurpose room, originally used for children to put on puppet shows, has seating for only about 65 people.
The museum would like to have a “black box” theater space, she said. It would have a sound system and theater lighting, she said, along with a movable stage. While it would be more useful for stage productions, Olson said, it would still offer some of the flexibility of the multipurpose room.
Some of the more popular features of the current museum could be re-created in a new building, she said, such as the “our town” space, with a play firetruck, car repair shop, lobster boat and market.
A new location could allow the museum to expand its offerings, Olson said, and refresh and update exhibits that would be retained.
Museum officials said they have informed the adjacent Portland Museum of Art that they are considering moving, but they haven’t had any discussions about the art museum buying the children’s museum space.
A call to the art museum seeking comment wasn’t returned Tuesday.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: [email protected]