Christopher Dougherty of the Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine board of directors speaks during a news conference Monday announcing details of its fundraising campaign and plans for a new building, which is under construction at Thompson’s Point. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine has raised $12.5 million toward a $14 million goal to pay for the construction of a new 30,000-square-foot building at Thompson’s Point in Portland.

The theater’s leadership team held a news conference Monday morning at Thompson’s Point to announce the public phase of its Imagine Capital Campaign and the top donors so far. While the news conference was going on inside a building, construction crews outside were doing earth work at the site of the future museum, which is likely to open in early 2021.

Construction crews work on the new Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine building at Thompson’s Point on Monday, when the museum announced details about its fundraising campaign and revealed plans for its new building. Staff Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

“The construction has begun, and the dream is coming true,” said Julie Butcher Pezzino, who became executive director of the museum and theater last July, taking over from longtime director Suzanne Olson, who attended Monday’s event and was recognized for her service.

The institution will continue to operate at its longtime home at 142 Free St., in downtown Portland, until construction is complete and it can move into its new building alongside Interstate 295. The Portland Museum of Art has purchased the Free Street building, which is nearly adjacent to the art museum in Congress Square.

While large sums of money have been donated or pledged toward the fundraising goal, Butcher Pezzino said the public phase of the capital campaign is open to anyone, and the museum and theater welcomes donations of any amount. To make her point, in addition to calling attention to several large family and corporate donors on Monday, campaign co-chair Barbee Gilman also highlighted the donation of $110 from 13-year-old Ian Valdmanis of Portland, who raised the money during a bake sale.

Several top donors attended Monday’s news conference, including longtime supporter Madeleine G. Corson of Yarmouth, honorary chair of the capital campaign. Corson gave what Butcher Pezzino called “a foundational gift” to name the new 100-seat theater “Maddy’s Theatre” in honor of her birth mother, who died when Corson was 11 days old. “I got her name and I got her life,” Corson said on Monday. “I’m trying to bring her back in a spiritual sort of way.”


Children’s Museum and Theatre of Maine donor Maddy Corson talks with attendees at an event announcing details about the museum’s fundraising campaign and construction. Corson went to the theater as a child. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer Buy this Photo

The new theater will be built primarily with kids in mind, and will be available to the regional theater community, said theater and education director Reba Askari. The theater, which was founded in 1923 and merged with the museum in 2008, is the longest continuously operating children’s theater in the country, and Corson wants to help ensure it remains so. It was instrumental her development as a little girl, she said. “The theater helped me release my energy,”  Corson said. “It all started here for me. I just love the idea of young children getting the chance to feel creative, to reach their creative selves.”

Philanthropist Dorothy Suzi Osher gave the naming gift for the entire building in honor of her parents, Joseph A. and Anna Marie Petrin of Biddeford.

Other top donors including Nestle Waters, which is supporting a 2,000-square-foot ecosystems exhibition that will include aquariums and touch tanks. The Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust is naming an intertidal touch tank after former museum and theater board member and longtime conservationist Joan Morton Kelly. Drew and Barbee Gilman of Cape Elizabeth and the Hagerty Family and Coulombe Family Foundation supported specific exhibitions, and IDEXX donated money for the IDEXX Stem Learning Hub. Bank of America donated money for the admissions desk and welcome area.

In its new location at Thompson’s Point, the museum expects to attract about 200,000 visitors annually, roughly doubling its current attendance. With approximately 30,000 square feet, the new building also will be nearly double the size of the existing building with a dedicated theater and more room for interactive exhibitions that focus on science, technology, engineering and math, as well as arts and culture.

State Rep. Richard Farnsworth, who represents the neighborhood and is a member of the Legislature’s education committee, praised the new museum for its location near a train and bus transportation hub and its mission of helping kids learn by exposing them to a variety of concepts and ideas.

“Different kids learn different ways,” he said. “They call this a museum, but it’s really a learning environment.”

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