Discovery center undiscoverable

Community reps seek to make facility available to public

The Mielke Discovery Center opened inside Hillcrest Primary School more than three years ago, but much of the community has yet to discover it.

Representatives with the Mielke Family Foundation presented a plan Monday to the Shawano School Board that would allow more of the community to enjoy it.

Ed Grys, a spokesman for the foundation and the Community Health Action Team, proposed opening the center — which is geared toward early childhood education — to the public for four hours on Saturdays and select holidays. The plan would require two employees to monitor the facility, and those wages would be funded by the district’s community education budget.

There is an outside entrance at the school in close proximity to the center, so it would not be necessary to have Hillcrest’s main corridor open on weekends, but Grys recommended a sidewalk be installed to indicate where the entrance is. Grys is also seeking funds for signs and marketing.

The center is geared toward children from age 3 to second grade, Grys said.

The center started out as a discussion in 2013 between Grys and Troy Edwards, Hillcrest’s principal. It was one of the projects started as a celebration of the foundation’s 50th anniversary. The center was formally opened in December 2014, Grys said.

“We wanted to do something particularly for early childhood education in the Shawano area,” Grys said. “Troy applied for some funds with the Mielke Family Foundation, about $20,000, and they put together what is essentially a miniature children’s museum.”

Edwards said the discovery center is split into four areas: small motor skills; large motor skills; lights and sounds; and construction.

“We try to swap things out to keep it fresh,” Edwards said. “We tried to incorporate as many of the five senses as we could.”

Edwards added that teachers regularly reserve the room for their students.

Although the Mielke Discovery Center has been a great asset for the school, Grys said, it has been a largely unknown asset. He noted that the Community Health Action Team held an in-depth analysis on early childhood education in 2016, and many of the participants were unaware of the center’s existence.

“The grant was given to the community, to be used by the community,” Grys said. “We’re missing a piece, and we’re trying to figure out how to make it available to the community.”

Besides allowing children outside Hillcrest to experience the room, the district could make the facility available for other children’s events like birthday parties. Grys recommended a minimal charge for admission, like $2 per child or $5 per family, to help the district recoup some of its costs.

“It’s not meant to be a drop-off, where somebody drops off the kids and picks them up two hours later,” Grys said. “They would have to be accompanied by the parents.”

Grys also recommended a three-year trial period for community access to the center, estimating it would take more than a year to market the place as a community asset.

The board took no action on approving community access but recommended Grys and his colleagues come up with some firm budget numbers to present to the district’s finance committee in February.