By Kylie Balk-Yaatenen - March 27th 2024



The Janesville City Council’s vote this week to gift $2 million to the planned Children’s Museum of Rock County could be key to the downtown project becoming a reality, the president of the nonprofit behind the museum reflected Wednesday.

“We are one large step closer to our goal of raising $10 million or more,” to construct the children’s museum on the site of the former First National Bank at 100 West Milwaukee Street, John Westphal told The Gazette in an interview.

“Although we have not seen any agreement yet, the city discussed making their contribution a ‘last dollar’ one,” Westphal continued. “We take that to mean they would commit the funding when their monies would put us at or over our campaign goal.”

To date, the group behind the museum has raised $5.75 million in contributions and pledges, Westphal said, meaning that beyond the city’s $2 million gift, about $2.5 million more would put its campaign over top, making the project a reality.

The city’s $2 million is coming from unrestricted fund balance. The council vote Monday was unanimous.

Westphal said the original campaign goal was $8 million but after meeting with an architect that was raised to $10 million. The campaign is expected to run through the end of 2024, when the final word on grants and other funding sources should be in hand.

The museum has asked the Rock County Board for $500,000 in federal COVID-19-era American Rescue Plan Act dollars. The county board’s finance committee is scheduled to take up the question of making that allocation at a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Rock County Courthouse, 51 South Main St., Janesville.

Additionally, “we have a handful of prospects who can make large donations but are uncommitted and we have our ‘Everyone For the Kids campaign,’ in which we are encouraging donors to make a $5,000 pledge over five years,” Westphal said.

The Janesville Generations Fund, managed by the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, has awarded the museum a $20,000 matching grant for donors who participate in the ‘Everyone For the Kids campaign,’ Westphal also noted.

“There are many ways for donors to get involved,” he said.

Westphal said construction of the museum would be a game-changer for both the city of Janesville and Rock County, restoring a blighted building near the Rock River in downtown Janesville and bringing Rock County-area families together to play and learn. Research shows a positive relationship between the amount of time children spend in unstructured activities and future academic and life success, he said.

“One of the highest, if not the highest, priority of a community is educating its children. We view our role as augmenting the education provided by our public, private, and home schools,” Westphal said. “As a facilitator of play, the museum will enrich the lives of all Rock County children, serve a majority of Rock County residents, and have widespread community impact.”

Westphal said support like the city is providing will help propel to fruition a vision 17 years in the making.

“We continue to be humbled and gratified by the passionate generosity of our Rock County neighbors and friends. There are many worthy organizations in the county to which people can donate their hard-earned money,” Westphal said. “I continue to be impressed by the open hearts of people in Rock County, my lifelong home. One more major point — if anybody out there wants to write us a check or make a pledge to us for a couple of million bucks, let’s talk about putting your name on this wonderful facility.”

Janesville City Council President Paul Benson said Monday, having a space like this in the downtown will help the city to grow by attracting and retaining new residents and families.

More information about the museum and how to donate is at

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