Only Local Project Case Study

Madison Children's Museum

Total square footage:  26,000 square feet
Architect:  Kubala Washatko Architects, building architects; Design Coalition, exhibit architects
Total project budget:  $16.5 million
Total exhibits & public space budget:  $2 million
Opening date:  August 2011

About Only Local

Madison Children’s Museum has made sustainability, community collaboration and place based education a top priority since the mid nineties, with landmark projects like First Feats, Sin Fronteras, Leap Into Lakes and Hmong at Heart. With continual work in these areas, MCM’s next logical development was a more formalized recognition of these threads through our Only Local Initiative, launched as part of MCM’s expansion into a larger facility, which opened in August 2010. Only Local concentrates on a tenet of sustainability that is often underemphasized or overlooked: It stresses all things local.

With Only Local, the museum sought to go beyond green in creating the new museum by working locally and sustainably in all aspects of project development. Only Local was applied to every aspect of project development: working with local architects, contractors, artists and children; grassroots fundraising campaigns; using local, reclaimed and sustainably harvested materials; using local objects, stories, culture and environment as the backbone of our museum’s exhibit and program offerings. By focusing on hiring local people, using local products, and inviting the local area to participate in the development of exhibits and environments, MCM has crafted a compelling argument for a local approach to sustainability that is both qualitative and quantitative.

UW woodworking students
Collaboration and Community

Perhaps the most crucial and viable resources MCM relied upon in undertaking the Only Local approach were the people who worked on every stage of the project’s completion. Local architects, designers, contractors, artists and fabricators worked with MCM to ensure not only that we worked within the scope of our sustainability guidelines, but also that the exhibits themselves would be as engaging and aesthetically pleasing as we had hoped.  Volunteers from the YMCA, Common Wealth Development’s youth program, the Urban League, the Madison Metropolitan School District and the University of Wisconsin-Madison made vital contributions, from painting and artwork to material salvaging to construction. More than 120 local artists worked with our exhibits department to produce a wide variety of interactive pieces within our space, and many did so without monetary compensation. We found that creative people are often looking for a new outlet in which to express themselves and find an audience, and many would jump at the opportunity to produce great work for a great cause. It’s important to look for people who ultimately see the completion of a project as its own reward; with these principles in mind, we have grown our volunteer corps from a dozen to more than 100 volunteers.  Specific examples of contacts and contributions are too numerous to mention; however, we acknowledge them in our day-to-day operations with our patrons, passing on the myriad colorful stories of how collaboration made the museum what it is today.

Distinguishing Local Features
  • Community involvement. The museum’s making involved more than 14,000 children, more than 120 local artists, more than 75 local contractors, two local architecture firms and 800-plus donors.  Only one out-of-state contractor was hired for entire project.
  • Substantial use of local, sustainably harvested materials throughout the building and exhibits.
  • Substantial use of reclaimed materials, used in inventive new ways.
  • Local networks of volunteers.
  • Local food, energy and alternative transportation highlighted.
  • 84 percent of exhibits budget spent locally.
  • Exhibit content and themes are locally inspired; place based-pedagogy is a core part of the educational framework.
  • Locally Grown exhibit created about local approach to the project.
  • Green Guide and Green Scavenger Hunt detail green features.
  • Fully accessible, year-round rooftop garden, exhibit space and clubhouse.
  • Local marketing and fundraising strategies developed.
  • Local network of service clubs, hobby clubs and buy local networks utilized.

The total new building project was $16.5 million. The building cost was $5 million; the building design and renovation costs were $7 million; the staff costs over a two-year period were $1.5 million, and the exhibit and public space enhancement costs were $2 million. To fill 26,000 square feet of public space in MCM’s new building on a relatively tight budget, the museum relied on local talent and expertise in nearly every aspect of the project.