Kidzu Children's Museum's nomadic life should be on hold for now.
Starting Saturday, the Chapel Hill children's museum will open its latest incarnation in an 8,500-square-foot space at University Mall. While leaders still hope to secure another, more permanent spot somewhere in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area, they've signed a three-year lease with University Mall, giving the destination a good home for now.
And that home has a lot of great new furniture - including a 2.5-story treehouse; an updated Gravitron; a climbing wall; lots of opportunities for imaginative play; The Makery with hands-on activities; and more. Using local artists and companies, leaders worked hard to ensure that Kidzu reflects and celebrates the community it serves.
"We're just so proud of what we've done," said Lisa Van Deman, Kidzu's education director. "We're excited about what we created and want everybody to be as excited as we are about it."
Kidzu opened in a small storefront along Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill in 2006. In the last nine years, it's moved to a handful of spots - another location on Franklin Street and spots inside University Mall.
Despite the moves, it's drawn more than 250,000 visitors since it opened. It's been closed off and on during that time as it moved to new spots. Kidzu shut down in mid-January to get ready for the new space. The exhibits are designed generally for babies to tweens.
The latest home, which Kidzu leaders are calling its Launch Pad, includes old favorites such as the market cart and cafe; the Gravitron, which kids use to move balls around with levers and tubes; and Book Nook for quiet reading and play.
Inside The Makery, kids can color, cut and create with everything from paper and scissors to computer programs and tools. Programs, exhibits and activities will emphasize STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math topics), along with health, well-being and early literacy. The new space also will allow Kidzu to offer its first summer camps - eight weeks - this summer.
But a new focal point is the 2.5-story treehouse built by Chapel Hill company Go Out and Play. The indoor treehouse rises about 20 feet off the ground and includes a crow's nest that lets kids look out on the action below. Underneath a section of the treehouse right near the museum's entrance, crews will install a "Noodle Forest," an area where large foam pool noodles will hang down from the treehouse, giving kids a chance to move and play among them.
Also new is a climbing wall designed for the space and partially donated by Progression Climbing, another local company. A climbing wall was one of the features Kidzu visitors said they wanted in museum evaluations, Van Deman said.
And there's a Kidzu version of UNC-Chapel Hill's Forest Theater where kids can put on their own plays or gather for storytimes and other programs. Kids also will be able to control a lighting system and even project shapes onto the wall.
As usual, Kidzu has worked with local artists to provide art for the new space. In many cases, artists and builders have worked with their own children and grandchildren on the pieces. There's also an emphasis on using reclaimed and recycled materials.
Melanie Hatz Levinson, Kidzu's curator of design and exhibits, said the use of of used and local materials and projects completed by multiple generations is what Kidzu is all about.
"That's actually rooted in what we're creating," she said.
Kidzu's grand opening is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, at University Mall in Chapel Hill. Admission is $5.50 per person. As usual, Kidzu will continue to offer a "pay what you can" admission on Sundays. Kidzu will offer regular programs, including Messy Masterpieces for kids under 4; STEAM'D Up for kids 4 and up; yoga; and storytimes.
Kidzu Children's Museum is at 201 S. Estes St., Chapel Hill.