Last year was a long one for Kidzu Children's Museum.
The Chapel Hill destination, designed for kids ages 0 to 8, was closed for much of 2011 as it made a move from its old home on Franklin Street to a new one right across the street at University Square.
But the move turned out to be a positive one for the museum, which was bustling Thursday morning with toddlers and preschoolers and their moms or caregivers.
Tina Clossick, Kidzu's director of operations, says the open, airy space is more inviting. Passersby can quickly get a glimpse of the play inside to decide whether its the right fit for their own kids and even just to learn what Kidzu is all about.
And, a big bonus, visitors no longer have to jockey for parking spaces in downtown Chapel Hill. There is plenty of free parking in University Square's parking lot. Destination: Kidzu Children's Museum
The new space is a temporary one for the museum. Clossick said that in the next few months, Kidzu leaders will hire an architecture firm to design a new and much bigger space for Kidzu on Wallace Plaza a few blocks away. The goal is to start building next year and open by early 2015.
About $5 million of the $11 million needed to build the project has been raised. A fundraising campaign will be launched later this year, Clossick said.
The future museum will allow Kidzu to expand its offerings, including more options for birthday parties and adding summer camps and afterschool programs. She also hopes to build more activities for older kids, including teenagers.
The new space at University Square "is a great way for us to segue into the new museum," Clossick said.
The space in University Square is about the same size as the old space, though there is no longer a gift shop. Kidzu refurbished the old exhibits and added some new play pieces too.
The play area includes four main sections - a market with a play kitchen, cafe and garden; the construction zone, which includes the very popular Gravitron where kids can launch and race balls; a book nook and puppet theater; and tot spot. There's also an art room where kids are encouraged to create their own works.
"It's all about being creative and finding your own way to use the materials that we provide," Clossick says of how kids should enjoy the space.
The museum works with Triangle groups, including the store Glee Kids, Ackland Art Museum, FRANK art gallery, and the N.C. Symphony, on events and programs.
Kidzu also offers regular storytimes, arts and crafts programs and workshops and more. Check the daily schedule for details.
Kidzu Children's Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays (when admission is free).