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An artist rendering shows the exterior of the proposed new Children’s Museum of Eau Claire at 126 N. Barstow St.

EAU CLAIRE — The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire has received a $500,000 donation from Pablo Foundation toward the completion of its new museum.

The donation, announced Tuesday, represents the largest gift to date for the 26,000-square-foot museum planned in downtown Eau Claire.

“We’re honored to have that support and to work with the Pablo Foundation toward bringing a new Children’s Museum to the community,” said Michael McHorney, executive director of the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire.

The Eau Claire-based Pablo Foundation, founded in 2017, is the philanthropic arm of the Pablo Group, which owns and oversees a collection of businesses including hotels, restaurants, commercial buildings, apartment complexes and single-family homes.

“We believe education comes in all forms, from traditional classrooms to learning through play,” Pablo Foundation’s executive director MaiVue Xiong said in a news release. “We are excited to partner with the CMEC to not only build upon its success in creating educational experiences through play, but to extend these types of learning experiences to as many people in our community as possible, regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

More than 1,400 children from low- to moderate-income households participate in the museum’s Play for All membership program. Since the launch of the program in 2015, the museum has given back $217,482 to the community through subsidizing Play for All memberships, thanks to private philanthropy.

“While education is the focal point of the Children’s Museum, we are excited that it will be incorporating other major focus areas of the foundation, such as health and the arts, into its projects, exhibits, programs and events,” Xiong said.

McHorney said he is grateful for the support of Pablo Foundation, which he noted has established itself as a philanthropic leader in the community in a short period of time.

“The vision and approach of the Pablo Foundation board of directors is inspiring and enhances philanthropy in our community,” McHorney said, adding that he is hopeful that the donation will inspire more gifts in support of the museum project.

The museum unveiled artist renderings in the fall of the planned new facility next to the North Barstow Street parking ramp that depict a gleaming new structure featuring a two-story bank of windows, actual Wisconsin tree trunks used as support columns and a variety of state-of-the-art exhibits.

Among the highlights of the new design, which will include more than 6,000 square feet of additional exhibit and classroom space, are the addition of an outdoor area to be used year-round, a water exhibit that museum officials hope will incorporate a firetruck and a tree that will shed leaves that children will be able to rake up.

Due to COVID-19, the museum closed March 16 but reopened July 6. It then closed again Aug. 2, with officials announcing in September it would remain closed until playtime begins in the new building at what is known as the Liner Site at 126 N. Barstow St.

In October 2019, the Eau Claire Redevelopment Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding with the museum and Monarch Ventures to construct buildings on the vacant lot.

The museum signed a development agreement with the city in August calling for the museum and the Monarch Ventures facility to share the block, with the buildings constructed in a U-shape to create a courtyard in the middle. The Monarch Ventures building is expected to include room for a restaurant and commercial space.

Construction is scheduled to begin in late spring or early summer, with the new museum expected to open in 2022, McHorney said.

So far, museum officials have been focused on securing major donations toward the project. The public phase of the fundraising campaign is expected to launch around June, when officials hope COVID-19 vaccinations will have progressed enough that it will be safer to hold hold in-person events where people can see the drawings.

“It’s going to take the whole community to make a project like this happen,” McHorney said.