Reinstated Grants to Invest Over $1M in McLean County Museums, Miller Park Zoo

Normal's Children's Discovery Museum is one of three McLean County sites expecting money for facilities upgrades following the reinstatement of delayed capital improvements grants Monday. The museum will use its $116,000 to update "Imagine Air," one of its oldest exhibits. (Photos: Children's Discovery Museum)

Three cornerstones of cultural arts in McLean County will see over $1M in capital improvements funds as part of Illinois’ new budget.

Signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on Monday, the budget includes a provision reinstating dozens of Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Public Museum Capital Grants.

Normal’s Children’s Discovery Museum and Bloomington’s Miller Park Zoo and McLean County Museum of History were all scheduled to receive IDNR funding when the grants program was suspended in 2014.

Three cornerstones of cultural arts in McLean County will see over $1M in capital improvements funds as part of Illinois’ new budget.

Signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner on Monday, the budget includes a provision reinstating dozens of Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) Public Museum Capital Grants.

Normal’s Children’s Discovery Museum and Bloomington’s Miller Park Zoo and McLean County Museum of History were all scheduled to receive IDNR funding when the grants program was suspended in 2014.

McLean County Museum of History Marketing and Community Relations Director Jeffrey Woodard took part in the Illinois Association of Museum’s lobbying efforts to reinstate the grants.

“Our association worked extremely hard, reaching out to our state representatives, conducting museum advocacy activities and meetings, including testimony in front of Illinois House of Representatives Museums, Arts, & Cultural Enhancement Committee, to make sure the appropriations were restored to the budget,” said Woodard.

With increased attendance in recent years, Woodard said the museum is looking forward to the $254,800-grant to rehabilitate historic lighting systems and relocate and build new restrooms.

The Children’s Discovery Museum will see $116,000 to update its second-floor Imagine Air exhibit with new floor-to-ceiling air mazes and learning stations.

Museum Director Beth Whisman said the exhibit predates the museum’s current Uptown Circle location.

“So it was already well loved when it arrived; we brought it with us because it was so popular.”

Whisman explained the planned upgrades not only address wear and tear as kids interact with the exhibit but help the museum stay “top of mind and relevant” for visitors.

“When we moved into this museum 14 years ago, if you were 10 years old [then], you’re 24 now. You might have your own kids. I’d love for you to come visit us and see something different and new that hearkens back to that exhibit you played with, but it doesn’t have to be the exact same thing you played with.”

Whisman estimated the new exhibit should take 18 months to design and install once the museum receives the grant money. The museum will consult with the exhibit’s original designer to complete the upgrades.

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The Miller Park Zoo is also expecting a $700,000 grant for a new DeBrazza’s Monkey exhibit, renovations to the zoo’s entrance building and an additional parking lot.

Bloomington’s Director of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Arts Jay Tetzloff could not be reached for comment Tuesday afternoon.