Iowa Children's Museum sees boost in attendance

Jamie Nicpon

The Gazette

October 29, 2004

CORALVILLE -- The Iowa Children's Museum is rebounding from slumping attendance records and financial difficulty and has started to realize a positive cash flow.
During Tuesday's regularly scheduled meeting, the Coralville City Council received an update from Deb Dunkhase, the museum's executive director.

"We came here a couple of years ago to give you an update on the status of the museum and we were facing some pretty challenging times," Dunkhase said. "Things are much, much brighter at the Children's Museum."

Dunkhase said that a recent, considerable increase in attendance was one of the biggest reasons the museum has been able to turn things around. After opening in 1999 with about 100,000 visitors that year, the museum was down to 70,000 visitors during 2001.

"Last year, we saw 85,000 visitors. We were thrilled with those numbers," Dunkhase said.

The museum set a single-month attendance record of 10,169 guests in March, the first time the 10,000-attendance mark has ever been cracked, Dunkhase said. After frequent requests for additional hours of operation, the museum realized success after opening seven days a week during the summer months.

The numbers from this maneuver were so encouraging it resulted in a new policy that when Iowa City schools are not in session, then the Iowa Children's Museum will be open, Dunkhase said.

Some of the museum's new features include the ICM Student Enrichment Scholarship Fund, as well as the ICM for Everyone Program.

"With all of the budget cuts over the last couple of years, one of the first things to go are outside enrichment experiences, so we decided to take the bull by the horns and establish a fund to help get schools to the museum," Dunkhase said.

Funds are available to any school in Iowa and all classrooms qualify. So far this year, $3,359 has been distributed through this program. The ICM for Everyone Program is geared toward helping disadvantaged families gain unrestricted access to the museum. To date, more than 350 free memberships, which are valid for up to one month, have been distributed to local families.

With regards to finances, Dunkhase reported that the museum is operating on an annual budget of about $600,000.

"I am truly, really proud to say that we have operated with a positive cash flow from operations for the last few years," she said.

Dunkhase expressed tremendous gratitude to Coralville resident for their support, whom she credited for the revitalization.

"If it hadn't been for your support, we wouldn't be standing here today with our doors open," Dunkhase said. "What you have done is make a community-wide investment in kids and family."

In other business, Kelly Hayworth, Coralville city administrator, said plans and specifications for the Marriott Hotel and Conference Center are now available for public viewing at City Hall. A public hearing regarding the plans will be held Nov. 9, and construction bids for the project will be accepted until Nov. 16.

Hayworth also said the official city Halloween trick-or-treat hours for 5:30 to 8 p.m. Sunday.