NAPERVILLE – Elated. Proud. Relieved. That’s how Dee Dee McDevitt, director of marketing and sales for the DuPage Children’s Museum in Naperville, describes the way staff members felt at the museum’s grand reopening Sept. 19, more than eight months after a pipe burst flooded the building.
“The staff came together as a team, and I’m so impressed with the caliber of talent that worked to rebuild the museum,” McDevitt said. “We’ve worked tirelessly, giving up our weekends, and just gave it our hearts and souls.”
At the opening, museum visitors were treated to several new areas, as well as old favorites. McDevitt said one child’s reaction summed up the day.
“One little boy, who was about 4, walked in and just said, ‘Wow.’ He was in awe,” she said. “To hear that reaction from a 4-year-old was awesome. Families were saying ‘welcome back,’ ‘we’ve missed you,’ ‘we’re so happy you’re back,’ and ‘congratulations.’”
Erin Stout-Shoger, the museum's digital marketing coordinator, said hundreds of families attended the grand opening, and she loved seeing the surprise on the children’s faces as they played in the reimagined exhibits.
“They just jumped right in like they hadn’t been gone,” she said. “It was true, heartfelt excitement. It was sad when we had to close, and it’s lovely to have them back and learning again.”
McDevitt said some of the most popular areas including “Creativity Connections,” “Make It Mine” and “Build It” are back, but with new features.
In addition to the remodeled favorites, visitors can have fun exploring several new areas.
In one new exhibit called “Shadow Sand," children play with “virtual sand” and use their bodies to create shapes and movement, McDevitt said. Children can create artistic masterpieces using paper, pipe cleaners, coffee filters, paint and many more materials in “The Studio,” another new exhibit.
“It’s so beautiful and shiny,” she said. “We’re so grateful for the support shown to us by our members, donors, media, businesses and the city of Naperville.”
Visitors can grab a bite to eat in the S.M.A.R.T Café, which stands for Science, Math, Art, Reading and Technology. McDevitt said the remodeled area is a fueling station for the body and mind.
The reopening has been a long time coming. On Jan. 8, 2015, a pipe burst overnight, sending water throughout the museum. McDevitt said that almost every space was impacted.
“It was catastrophic,” she said. “Our first challenge was to dry out, clean up and demolish the damaged areas. From there, we had countless meetings with architects, insurance reps and construction teams. We didn’t think the construction would take this long, but every day could bring new challenges.”
Stout-Shoger said she was surprised and disappointed when she learned of the extent of the damage.
“The team that worked on this was phenomenal, and they brought everything back to life better than before. I feel blessed to be a part of it,” she said.
While the building was undergoing the renovation, the museum was able to open a temporary location in February in Aurora's Westfield Fox Valley Mall. McDevitt said the museum was able to provide exhibits and programs in the “mini-museum,” which closed on Labor Day.
“People were able to come in and see our exhibits on a smaller scale,” she said. “It kept our members happy, and we welcomed a lot of new visitors. It was a big hit.”
Now that the museum is back in its original location, McDevitt said the museum has extended its hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, and it is getting ready for some exciting new exhibits.
In January 2016, the museum will host “Children of Hangzhou: Connecting with China,” which McDevitt described as a nationally renowned traveling exhibit where families learn about one of the world’s oldest civilizations.
“DuPage Children’s Museum is known for having traveling exhibits, and this is a way to engage children and families,” she said.
The museum’s volunteer center was remodeled and renamed for former Naperville Mayor A. George Pradel. McDevitt said the new center has new paint, furniture and signage.
“Our volunteer program is unheard of,” McDevitt said. “We have more than 1,000 volunteers. This space is for them to relax and work on projects.”
For information on the DuPage Children’s Museum, including updated hours, visit dupagechildrens.org.