Please Touch Museum cuts staff, plans to stay closed until 2021

Children playing in the water play area at Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum

Children enjoy the water play area at Philadelphia's Please Touch Museum. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 4:45 p.m.

The Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia has scrapped its intention to reopen this fall, and will remain closed until next year.

The children’s museum in the historic Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park has been closed since March because of the coronavirus pandemic. Since then, it has cut its staff by 75% to a skeleton crew of just 18 employees.

Over the last four months, the museum has planned for a September reopening, putting into place procedures and technology to keep itself as safe as possible from spreading infection. It was ready to go for a Labor Day reopening, complete with a new 5,000-square-foot gallery, “Centennial Innovations,” that has been ready for its inaugural ribbon-cutting since April.

But after the Philadelphia School District decided last week to begin the upcoming fall semester entirely online, Please Touch decided to follow suit and postpone reopening until an undetermined date in 2021.

“The decision of the school district to go to all-virtual learning and keep students in what they believe is the safest place — at home — was a big influencer in our decision today,” said museum CEO Patricia Wellenbach. “If the school district believes the safest place for students is at home, maybe we need to pay attention to that.”

Wellenbach was also taking cues from other children’s museums around the country, including the Louisiana Children’s Museum in New Orleans, which reopened three weeks ago then almost immediately announced it would close again because not enough people were coming.

Describing the decision as “agonizing,” Wellenbach informed museum members that their dues will continue to be automatically frozen until the Please Touch reopens, whenever that is.

Get daily updates from WHYY News!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal