By Kylie Balk Yaatenen - July 9th 2024



The Children’s Museum of Rock County says it’s closing in on a $10 million capital campaign goal, that will bring its envisioned project to downtown Janesville.

On Tuesday, the nonprofit organization announced it has now raised $8.3 million, calling that a significant benchmark achieved.

The $10 million Let’s PLAY Together capital campaign aims to build a children’s museum at the former Chase bank site at 100 W. Milwaukee St.

The museum is expected to bring 81,000 visitors annually into the downtown area and to generate $4.24 million in local economic revenue.

It follows the Rock County Board’s denial in April of a $500,000 request for the planned museum, and the Janesville City Council’s approval in March of a $2 million gift to the museum.

Children’s Museum of Rock County Board President John Westphal, who also serves as the capital campaign chair and is a former member of the Janesville City Council, said he understands the challenges elected officials face when trying to determine the best and most efficient use of resources.

The Rock County Board vote in April was 16-8. At least 18 “yes” votes were required for super majority passage.

“We got two chances to present our case to the supervisors, so we appreciate that they took the time to consider our requests,” Westphal said. “We have always approached our capital campaign as a marathon, not a sprint. We have been raising funds for almost two years now, and we never expected every prospect to make a pledge to our museum. If a prospect turns us down, we thank them for listening and take the next step in our process.”

“The end goal of creating a children’s museum for our county keeps us all pretty fired up, regardless of minor setbacks,” he added.

According to a release Tuesday, the $8.3 million raised to-date represents over 80% of the children’s museum goal and makes it eligible to apply for certain grants like the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation’s Community Development Investment Grant, which could total $250,000.

The proposed children’s museum meets the requirements for CDI Grant eligibility, including:

• Development of a significant destination attraction

• Rehabilitation and reuse of an underutilized or landmark building

• Infill development

• Historic preservation

• Infrastructure efforts providing benefits to downtown residents/property owners

• Mixed-use development

“I have been communicating with representatives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, formerly the Department of Commerce, over the past year about grant opportunities for projects like ours,” Westphal said. “An opportunity that is most exciting to us is the WEDC’s Community Development Investment Grant. The CDI Grant Program supports community redevelopment efforts by providing financial incentives for shovel-ready projects with emphasis on, but not limited to, downtown community-driven efforts.”

Westphal said the children’s museum will continue to look for more donor and fundraising opportunities and be stepping soon into design and construction.

“Raising $10 million is a real elephant hunt, and how does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We have also taken the next steps in the design and construction of the facility. Our design team is in the process of getting the design to 65% to 75% completion, and we are getting contractors on board,” he said. “They will provide us with input, expertise, value engineering ideas, and budgets to make sure we design an efficient building that meets our budget. We also hope to engage an exhibit fabrication firm to begin the final design and pricing for the museum’s exhibits.”

Westphal said through the capital campaign he has met great people and is grateful to the community.

“I have been working with some wonderful people in the county’s agriculture industry — Randy Hughes, Pat Weberpal, Leo Johnson, Jim Raymond, Gary Punzel, to name a few — that are plowing the road for me for donor prospects in their community,” he said. “We have a goal to raise $1 million from the local agriculture industry to fund the nation’s best children’s museum agriculture exhibit. I am excited that we have raised $450,000 for that endeavor just in the past two weeks. We are also fortunate to have the very generous Ben and Macy Ryan, one of our major donors.”

Westphal said he expects capital campaign fundraising to conclude later this year. Construction of the museum is expected to take 10 to 13 months, with a hoped-for opening in early 2026.

“For our board members, $8 million represents a real achievement and gives us a jolt of jet fuel to put in the effort to complete the last 20% of our campaign,” he said. “When we began our campaign almost two years ago, our goal was to raise $8 million. Before that figure was surpassed by the wonderful private fundraising effort for the Woodman’s Center, that would have been the largest amount ever raised locally in a capital campaign. Due to many factors associated with developing this project, we have now raised our goal to $10 million.”

“There are many great causes and capital campaigns that have just finished, are underway, or are just starting in our county. Each one of them will make Rock County a better place to live, work, go to school, and raise a family, and they are all worthy of our support,” he continued. “We at the children’s museum continue to be touched and humbled by the heartfelt generosity of so many people in our community. We hope that, for those people who believe in the importance of the museum’s mission, donors will continue to fund our campaign and remind us why this is such a great place to live.”

“If anybody wants to write us a check for $2 million, we will name the museum after them,” he jokingly added.

To learn more about the project and ways to support it, visit

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