COMMERCE — Northeast Texas Children’s Museum turned over the keys to its home at A&M-Commerce Oct. 18, marking the end of its 12-year lease. From its on-campus location, the museum has served thousands of area children.
As the Children’s Museum continues to grow, plans have been made to move to a larger location on Highway 11 in Commerce. According to Children’s Museum Director Sharline Freeman, “…purchasing the former Polara building and seven acres gives us more space for growth and more options for our future.”
Despite the move, A&M-Commerce and the Children’s Museum look forward to continuing their long-standing partnership. A&M-Commerce Associate Vice President Paula Hanson, who also serves as vice president of the Children’s Museum board, emphasized that the university values community education initiatives and fosters strong community ties.
“We plan to continue to partner with the museum to promote Commerce and our focus on education,” Hanson said.
According to Alicia Currin, former board member for the Children’s Museum and current vice-president at A&M-Commerce, “Having the museum near the university has been beneficial for both parties. We are true partners, working in a collaborative nature.”
Currin explained that the Children’s Museum draws visitors to the university who may not otherwise visit campus, and conversely, the university supports museum events, provides student volunteers and offers cooperative event scheduling at the university’s facilities.
Since 2002, the Children’s Museum has played an important role in the lives of area children. The non-profit organization, whose mission is to inspire imagination, enhance creativity and build confidence in children, hosts around 30,000 visitors each year.
School field trips to the Children’s Museum allow children to engage in educational experiences including interactive labs and science experiments. The museum also features several play areas, including a grocery store, pioneer cabin, airplane shell and a dentist office, encouraging children to use their imaginations in free play.
Former A&M-Commerce President Keith McFarland was instrumental in bringing the Children’s Museum to the university campus in 2007. He recalled the museum had been operating from an old grocery store and was looking for a new location. Watson Cafeteria on the west side of campus had been vacant for several years, so President McFarland offered it as a new home for the museum.
When legal complications prevented the A&M System from approving the lease agreement, McFarland wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“I appealed to the chancellor of the A&M System … and told him how important it was to the community,” McFarland said.
In response, the chancellor worked with the legal team to create an agreement between the university and the museum board, and the rest is history.
“It’s been a good partnership for the university and the museum because we had a building that was just sitting there, and we were able to bring new life to it,” McFarland said. “I think a lot of young people will remember their visit to A&M-Commerce and going to the Children’s Museum, so it has not only benefitted the university, but it was a positive influence on young people throughout Northeast Texas.”
The grand opening for the new Children’s Museum location was Saturday, Oct. 26. According to Hanson, “[The new building] will allow the museum to grow and increase visitors from across the region which will provide more exposure to Commerce and the university.”
Freeman expressed her thanks to A&M-Commerce on behalf of the Children’s Museum. “We appreciate our time in the building we have leased from Texas A&M University-Commerce for the last 12 years,” she said. “While in this building, the Children’s Museum has grown and thrived. We are now ready for the next step.”