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Port Wonder Progress: Target date for opening is mid-September

American Press - June 7, 2024

Children’s Museum Executive Director Allyson Montgomery said Thursday that the Port Wonder building, which is nearing completion, will be able to withstand a Category 4 hurricane. (Donna Price / American Press)

By Crystal Stevenson

Published on June 7, 2024

Port Wonder — years in the making — is closing in on its grand opening. The entertainment and education complex will feature the new Children’s Museum of SWLA and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ Science Center and Educational Complex. The museum and the science center will occupy separate wings on either side of this shared congregation space and meet at a shared lobby courtyard. Children’s Museum Executive Director Allyson Montgomery said the site has overcome a few delays with construction, aquarium tanks, fiber cables and operating systems but is nearing the final stretch.

“We actually got our fourth shipment of exhibits in this week so we’re very excited about that,” Montgomery told members of Kiwanis Club of Calcasieu Thursday afternoon.

The company fabricating the exhibits, 1220 Exhibits in Nashville, has also created showcases for the National World War II Museum, Smithsonian National Museum and the Library of Congress.

“They are top-notch and we are very, very blessed to have them be part of our project,” she said. “We’ve also been working with CambridgeSeven out of Boston for the designs of the exhibits and the design of the building. It is really something spectacular.”

Seeing the architectural renderings and then watching the facility come to life has been a unique experience for Montgomery.

“It’s been exciting to watch. There’s huge columns that are about six-foot wide and beams that are high in the air that you could see from the road that were wrapped until the roofing system came in,” she said. “The roofing system is a very unique design and it is hurricane-rated. There are layers and layers of weather-proofing and insulation between that metal and the actual ceiling.”

She said the waterfront building and its windows are able to withstand a Category 4 hurricane.

A boardwalk and fishing pier are under construction Thursday behind Port Wonder. A green space with a playground area and picnic tables will separate Port Wonder from the lake. (Donna Price / American Press)

Something else special about the site is the green space separating it from the lake.

“We have a playground project that we will be kicking off once we get opened and situated. We are working with the St. Nicholas Center for Children as well as Families for Inclusion, Christus Oschner St. Patrick Hospital, Down Syndrome Association of SWLA and Children’s Miracle Network. We have a good coalition that has helped us with the design of that playground to where it is fully accessible for children and people of all handicaps and special needs.”

Also in that green space will be picnic tables for visiting students to have their lunches while on field trips, an enlarged walking trail and a fishing pier.

She said the installation of aquarium tanks on the Wildlife and Fisheries’ side is expected to be completed by the middle of June and the process of acclimating the species of fish that will be caught locally will begin soon after.

She said Wildlife and Fisheries will occupy about 35 percent of Port Wonder, 5 percent of the facility will be a common area and the children’s museum will occupy the rest — which is about 25,000 square feet.

“We really designed it thoughtfully and carefully to where we made maximum use of space that was available to us — of course, right after COVID and the hurricanes, construction costs sky-rocketed and so did materials for the exhibits. We had to cut back the size of the building slightly and we went out and asked for additional funding to meet the difference between inflation and the cost of everything going up. We were able to meet that mark for bricks and mortar.”

They’ve also done well with the Here Comes the Sun campaign, which allows children with special needs and children who are less fortunate to visit the museum at a reduced cost.

Montgomery said all of the exhibits are owned by the children’s museum and will remain until retired.

“The way you keep people coming back and keep things interesting with your exhibits and with your facility is with your programming,” she said. “We have a fabulous team we are assembling to keep things interactive and interesting. With all of the exhibits we will have online lessons and lesson plans that teachers, home-school families and parents can utilize and bring into the classroom. They can do them before they come to visit or after they go home. Those are ways to extend the learning experience.”

Other activities planned are summer camps, workshops, meditation and yoga, and drawing and calligraphy classes.

“My goal is to make it a hub for families, in general, and not just a place for young children,” Montgomery said.

The target date for Port Wonder to open is mid-September.

She said the anticipated ticket price for admittance is $14-$15 for the museum and about $5-$6 for the Wildlife & Fisheries side. Logistics are being figured out for a joint ticket; the hang-up is that taxes are not included for Wildlife & Fisheries admission but would be charged for a museum ticket.

The field trip fee is expected to be $9 for Calcasieu students and $9.50 for those who attend classes outside the parish.

Timed ticketing is also planned, Montgomery said. Initially, same-day tickets will be good for two-hour increments. That is expected to increase to four-hour increments when the newness wears off. Members will not have a time limit on visits.

Rental space for birthday parties will also be available.

Montgomery anticipates 35 percent of yearly visitors will be from out of state. At the previous location, that number was 29 percent. She said Crying Eagle will still be under construction when Port Wonder opens. During that time, two-thirds of the Port Wonder parking lot will be available. Any overflow parking, however, will go to the newly renovated lakefront parking garage.

“It’s an exciting time,” Montgomery said. “It’s a lot that we’ve been working on all at one time but the wheels are in motion and whenever those kids step foot in that museum just the smiles on their faces lighting up, it will all be worth it. This is definitely a labor of love.”

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American Press