The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 30, 2013

Leonardo's has a million reasons to give back

Children’s science museum focusing on scholarships and expanding to meet the needs of the community

By Cass Rains, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse and Adventure Quest are Enid landmarks and the destinations for millions of children and families.

Executive Director Julie Baird said making sure children and families have access is a priority for Leonardo’s.

“We have an extensive scholarship program,” she said. “We have made it a priority as Leonardo’s  grows to increase outreach in the community.”

Part of that effort is due to the city of Enid sponsoring the learning museum.

“They do give us some operation funds each year as part of their annual budget,” Baird said. “Some goes to pay for participation in the Oklahoma Museum Network funded by the Donald W. Reynolds Foundation. Our participation in that program has meant true progress for Leonardo’s.”

She said before Leonardo’s joined the network there had not been a new exhibit in years. Now, there are new exhibits every six months.

“At Leonardo’s we have made it a priority to reach out to low-income children and families,” Baird said, noting all funds not used for operating costs are given back. “The rest, we give back to the community, and we do that in the form of family memberships, free admissions and camp scholarships.”

Leonardo’s hosted a spring break camp and will host a nine-week summer camp.

“We have never turned away a scholarship request for camp,” she said. “In 2012, we gave away $90,000 worth of scholarships.”

Baird said she thinks it is important for children to find an interest in science and mathematics at an early age.

“Science and math education is at a critical level in this country and a place like Leonardo’s is qualified to help meet that need,” she said. “We see ourselves as a resource for parents, teachers and schools.”

Leonardo’s has a science advisory board comprised of area educators. Baird said one of the members says Leonardo’s enhance what students are doing in the classroom.

“We have some things here they cannot do in a classroom setting,” she said. “We talk about twenty-first century learning here a lot.”

Schools used to focus on the three Rs, she said, but now are focused on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.

“Leonardo’s is perfect for that. We see our role as helping train tomorrow’s work force,” she said. “They think they’re playing and having fun, but they’re learning math and science skills they can use to give them further advantages in their lives.”

In 2010, Leonardo’s Discovery Warehouse saw its millionth child come through the doors, and the facility staff is working toward making an unforgettable experience for the next few million.

“We’re raising money for the next 1 million children, Baird said. “For future generations to come here and bring their children here.”

The museum averages about 300 visitors a day and about 90,000 visitors a year. The museum has 1,073 current family memberships, a number that has more than tripled in the last eight years.

“I attribute that in part to an extensive scholarship program, and I think the Oklahoma Museum Network ... has something to do with that,” Baird said. “People are seeing more reasons to come back.

“We’ve really increased our programming and events. There’s a lot more reasons for families to visit regularly.”

Leonardo’s is undergoing a capital campaign to completely renovate the museum. The plans includes all new permanent exhibits on the first floor.

“We’re expanding the museum to two floors, and the third floor will be our education center,” Baird said, noting there would be four designated classrooms on the third floor. “It will fully use the entire building.”

Baird said time was spent with an exhibit designer and an architect.

“Not only will we renovate the inside we will renovate the outside, too,” she said.

The renovation will be done over time, including a new entrance on the south side of the building, enclosing the west entrance, creating a facade for the building and new first-floor restrooms.

“We feel like the community has always taken ownership of Leonardo’s and Adventure Quest, and we’re calling on them again to renovate for the next generation,” Baird said. “When you think about how Leonardo’s came into being in the first place it was a community project.

“We’re calling on the community once again to help.”

The capital campaign is for $6 million to complete the renovation and an additional $2 million to create an endowment to maintain it.

“As we grow, we’re also giving back. We’re making the museum accessible,” Baird said. “What’s the point of having a one-of-kind children’s museum and the world’s largest community built outdoor playground in Enid, America, if the kids that need it the most never get to visit? That’s why we work so hard for our scholarship program.”