Growing pains for the Delaware Children Museum [video]

 (DCM Facebook photo)

(DCM Facebook photo)

Ahead of its 5th birthday this spring, the Delaware Children’s Museum is focused on sustainability after a tough couple of years.

With help from some friends, an older and wiser DCM has made some changes it believes will guarantee the museum’s long-term presence on the Wilmington Riverfront.

The museum has added new features, like a new 600-pound touch tank aquarium and sensory play area. 

“We’re always looking for ways that we can grab your attention, provide the educational wow and keep on learning, keep on growing, keep on changing,” said Jen Bush, director of education.

The science-themed museum has also expanded its hours and reduced admission to $8.75, down from $12.

“We’ve expanded our hours, we’ve added new exhibits, we’ve changed our pricing structure, so we really anticipate that revenues will increase,” said Megan McGlinchey, director of operations.

How we got here

It wasn’t long before the DCM’s confidence was tested. 

After opening on April 24, 2010, revenue and attendance numbers continued to slip in years two and three. Then, executive director Julie Van Blarcom resigned and shortly thereafter the museum asked the Riverfront Development Corporation for help.

“They came to us and said, ‘Look, we’re having some challenges,’ but everybody had challenges. You went through the worst recession we’ve had in forever and so some of the limitations that they had in raising money and operating it efficiently didn’t really show up until about the third year of operations,” said Mike Purzycki, executive director of the RDC.

The RDC manages properties along the Riverfront like the Chase Center. Purzycki said the museum needed help running day-to-day operations. 

“It was really our area of expertise,” he said. “So our facilities people came in and helped with their utility costs and with maintenance costs.”

The management agreement with the RDC saves the museum roughly $150,000. Purzycki also assigned his deputy directory, McGlinchey, as the DCM’s director of operations in January 2014.

McGlinchey said museums typically experience a business boom in year one with an overall dip or leveling off in year two. 

“I don’t think there was anything that when we came in, we saw and said, ‘Oh, this is where they made their mistake,'” said McGlinchey, describing the DCM budget as efficient, but needing some tweaks.

McGlinchey reduced DCM’s $1.5 million operating budget to $1.2 million and further cut expenses by 20 percent. 

She also surveyed museum members and visitors and based on their feedback spearheaded the aforementioned changes.

“The feedback that we got, we took that and we said, ‘Okay we need some new things, we need to freshen things up,” she said. “They also told us your admission pricing is a little high … and they said the hours that you have really isn’t conducive to my family and my family coming to the museum often.”

Since dropping its prices last September, McGlinchey said the museum has welcomed 2,000 more visitors through December compared with the same timeframe in 2013. 

Family hub

It is in the RDC’s best interest to see the science-themed museum flourish, as it tries to make the Riverfront a family hub. Along with the DCM, the RDC opened an ice skating rink and is currently building a miniature golf course directly behind the museum.

Once the museum has proven it’s on firm financial footing, McGlinchey said it will be up the museum’s board and the RDC’s board to decide whether the management agreement will remain in place. 

Additionally, Purzycki, who sits on the DCM’s board, said an executive director will be named in the near future.

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