On this coming Saturday, May 17th, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum will be hosting its 22nd annual Kids Building Fair, an event that is older than the museum itself.
The event was started 22 years ago by PACA, the Preservation and Conservation Association. PACA is a nonprofit organization, founded in 1981, that according to its website was “created to foster and encourage the preservation and conservation of the natural and built environment of Champaign County and East Central Illinois.” It hosted the event in order to help save the historic Orpheum Theatre that had closed in 1986. The building was going to be torn down, but the first Kids’ Building Fair helped raise the funds to turn the building into a science museum for kids.
22 years later, the fair is still going strong as the museum’s most popular event. The fair takes place in the parking lot in front of the museum and is organized into twenty different “cities.” In each city, there is a different activity centered around a particular building trade. Businesses from around the community donate money, supplies, and volunteers to each city, often to a city that has something to do with their trade or profession.
The most popular city is Carpenter City — staffed by volunteers from New Prairie Construction. It is by far the biggest station, taking up the whole south side of the parking lot. At Carpenter City, kids have access to tons of scrap wood, hammers, nails and safety goggles. The city stays busy all day producing many stools, benches, and planter boxes.
“I think it’s everybody’s goal to make at least at one thing at carpenter city when they come to the building fair,” says Zoe Stinson, the acting director of the museum.
Once they build something at Carpenter City, kids can take their creation over to Paint City to add a splash of color.
There are activities for almost any kid ages 3-12. Some of the cities will be dangerous for a toddler, but Toddler City is a fairly new addition to the fair made just for them. In the past, Grow a City, where kids can plant their own flower, has also been popular with toddlers. Art city, where kids get a chance to practice graffiti, is one city toddlers may not be old enough for.
In addition to cities, the fair has expanded to include other attractions. A fire truck from the Champaign Fire Department will be there for kids to climb up and sit in. Kids can also explore a crane and other machinery. The fair has also recently added a Food City, allowing guests to grab a snack from some local C-U food trucks.
Within the past couple of years, a stage show has also become a feature of the event. Last year the stage held science demos and even belly dancers. The museum is still in the process of securing performers for this year, but they are hoping for musical performances and a Lego robotics demonstration.
There is no rain date for the fair as it’s never been an issue in the past, but in the event it does rain, some of the cities may be able to be moved inside. Most cities are also covered by tents.
Overall the fair has two goals. The first is to raise money for the museum. While admission is free, the museum raises funds through the many sponsorships and through raffle sales. This year, a large pirate play ship will be raffled off. The money raised will be used towards expanding exhibits, adding more programming, and offering more free events like the Building Fair itself.
The second goal is for kids to be exposed to all the different kinds of building trades.
“There’s a lot more to it than hammering and nailing wood together to make the buildings around town,” says Stinson.
The museum expects over 2,500 attendees to come enjoy the Champaign sun and get a little dirty come May 17th. The fair runs from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. outside the Orpheum in Downtown Champaign.