Big steps for KidTime museum

A million-dollar infusion for Medford’s KidTime Children’s Museum will offer some desperately needed capacity with an outdoor classroom space for the benefit of existing and additional families.

Sunny Spicer, executive director of KidTime, announced the $1,172,000 in funding, awarded through federal housing and urban development dollars, on Thursday. Spicer said the money could not have come at a better time for the region — which, she said, faces critical shortages in childcare and early learning opportunities.

The funds will be used for construction of an outdoor classroom and surrounding natural play area at the organization’s new facility, located at the Historic Carnegie Building in downtown Medford and set for its grand re-opening by mid-June.

Spicer said the project would be “transformative for downtown Medford and have a far-reaching impact” in the local community.

“This will create a whole outdoor learning space for our new location — it’s a whole additional project beyond what we’re already doing and one that we did not know we would be able to do so soon,” Spicer said on Thursday.

KidTime, founded in 2002, had meager beginnings via mobile setups around the community and eventually inside the old Moose Lodge building near Medford’s Rossanley Drive and McAndrews Road in 2005.

Moving in 2011 to its now-former digs along Central Avenue, inside the Southern Oregon History Center, would see the facility grow into a regionally renowned space for creative play.

Organizers announced plans last year to renovate the former Medford library, alongside Alba Park, with a major expansion launching amidst the throws of pandemic restrictions and funding uncertainty.

Shuttered during the pandemic, and due to its move from the former location off Central, KidTime will reopen in mid-June under its new moniker, the Children’s Museum of Southern Oregon.

With many local families desperate to “get back to work,” Spicer said childcare is a key component. Currently KidTime boasts a more than 200 family wait list for childcare and preschool programs.

“There is such an overwhelming shortage of preschool and childcare capacity in our region and to be able to add more to what we already provide is a huge deal,” Spicer said.

“Every single application that we get is one of hundreds of families who are desperate to go to work but they can’t because they can’t find a place for their child to go. It’s a cyclical problem. Until we help people with their children, we can’t help our community in other ways.”

Spicer said it was exciting to bring local and regional leaders to the table on Friday to talk about the “the dire lack of capacity in the region for childcare and the impacts on the community’s local families.”

On hand for Friday’s presentation were Sen. Jeff Merkley, State Rep. Pam Marsh, State Sen. Jeff Golden, Medford School District Brett Champion, former Rep. Peter Buckley and chief deputy district attorney Jeremy Markiewicz.

Spicer was eager to extend services to families in need while simultaneously worried by how many families will still have a need.

Spicer said the outdoor classroom would allow for rotating groups of 20-student classrooms. Funding for the classroom space, she hoped, will free up other funding for needed scholarships. She estimated some 70-80 percent of KidTime’s Ivy Preschool require scholarships to attend.

Spicer, who began with KidTime in 2005, at the old Moose Lodge, marveled to think of the organization’s growth, despite there being “so much more, still, to do.”

“It’s crazy to think when this all started, I was carting boxes of toys and a magnetic wall around in my mini-van. We have three teachers that went to the moose lodge as kids, and that’s what got them involved in early learning. It’s what made them want to become teachers,” she said.

“It’s exciting to be able to expand in this way and to be able to reach more families and help our community in such a substantial way. We’ll be able to reach a lot of families. This is really like bucket list type stuff for us.”