New Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine Executive Director Julie Butcher Pezzino joins the organization as it prepares to move to a new space being built at Thompson’s Point. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

PORTLAND — It is a time of transitions for Julie Butcher Pezzino and the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine.

Next year, the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine hopes to move from 142 Free St. in Portland, its home for the last 25 years. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

As she succeeds Suzanne Olson, who had been the organization’s executive director for nearly two decades, Pezzino is helping lead the effort to move the museum from its longtime downtown location to a new home at Thompson’s Point.

“I am really motivated by an organization that is in a period of change, growth and innovation, and that is certainly the case with the museum and theatre now,” Pezzino said.

The museum is hoping to raise more than $13.7 million to move from 142 Free St., its home for more than 25 years, to a new building on Thompson’s Point. Rose Splint, director of the capital campaign, said how much has been raised so far is not publicly available, but the financial response from large donors and corporate sponsors has been “overwhelmingly positive so far.”

Splint said construction at Thompson’s Point is eventually expected to take 12 to 18 months.

“During that time, our current home at 142 Free St. will remain open and vibrant. We hope to move into the new facility near the end of 2020,” she said in an email.

Pezzino and Splint said the new facility will better address the community’s needs.

“The future museum and theatre will expand our commitment to providing children and families – especially the underserved – with opportunities for inspired learning, particularly in the areas of early childhood, the arts, science and environmental stewardship, and diversity and inclusion,” Splint said.

Pezzino said the new museum will be able to accommodate many more young learners. It is common, she said, to have the museum operate at maximum capacity on holidays, school vacations and during the summer. A few weeks ago, she said, 1,200 people visited the museum in a single day, requiring admission to be staggered as space became available.

The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine is raising $13.7 million to construct a new building on land at Thompson’s Point. The building is expected to open in late 2020. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

Splint said the new building “will be double the size of our current building, and will feature a vastly different configuration designed to better support our mission: three floors of custom-designed exhibits, two learning labs for our educational programs, a state-of-the-art children’s theatre, and outdoor exhibit and community spaces.”

Planned exhibits include an indoor playscape, a community area where children can explore what it’s like to be a firefighter, or to work in a hospital, airport or a market or on a lobster boat or train; a multicultural exhibit and a science floor with touch tank and areas to learn about illumination, water, and air, ramps and balls.

The 100-seat theater, Splint said, will continue to offer productions “for kids, by kids,” but will also be available for other shows and be available to rent.

The new museum space will also have plenty of outdoor play space for children and plenty of parking – two elements the current building lacks.  The museum location will also be convenient for visitors who arrive in Portland via bus or train at the Portland Transportation Center.

The new museum should accommodate upwards of 200,000 people a year, compared with 110,000 people who now annually visit the downtown building.

The space will be new, but the mission of providing children the opportunity to learn about science, art and the world around them through play will remain the same.

“My vision is to continue the foundation of what the museum and theatre has been for many years and elevate it to an even bigger and broader level,” Pezzino said.

Board President Chris Dougherty said Pezzino is coming on at a key time.

“She is an innovative, dedicated, community-focused leader who will help the organization flourish before, during, and after the move to our new home,” Dougherty said in a statement announcing Pezzino’s hiring.

Pezzino moved to Portland in June 2017 with her husband and two children after eights years of running Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that helps groups and schools start gardens, especially in urban areas. A regular visitor at the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, Pezzino said she stopped by the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine while visiting Portland and was immediately impressed.

“I know the value an institution like the (Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine) can bring to a region and all the resources it can provide,” she said. “I was certainly not disappointed. It was definitely one of the reasons we felt comfortable moving our family here.”

Pezzino began volunteering at the museum on its auction and special events committees. When the executive director position became available, she said she knew it was an opportunity she didn’t want to pass up.

“I feel most happy and comfortable giving back to my community and working locally,” Pezzino said.


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