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Santa Barbara Children’s Museum Celebrates Groundbreaking, New Name

The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, also known as MOXI, is named in honor of donors Dick and Noelle Wolf

Wednesday's groundbreaking had been a long time coming for the supporters and funders of the Santa Barbara Children's Museum, which is closer than ever to opening its doors.

The event gathered several hundred supporters, community leaders, board members and others to celebrate construction beginning at the site, which is located in the heart of the lower State Street neighborhood at 125 State St.

The groundbreaking also served as an unveiling of the museum's rebranding and new name honoring the couple who made a multimillion-dollar gift to the organization.

The Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation, also known by its acronym MOXI, was named in honor of Dick and Noelle Wolf.

Wolf is the Emmy-winning creator of the television series Law & Order and said he was drawn to help fund the museum after reading an article that stated the United States was lagging behind other countries in its math and science scores.

In order to keep up with the rest of the world, children must have more educational opportunities, he said.

"It's an absolute necessity," Wolf said.

Though it's vacant now, the lot that sits between the Santa Barbara Train Station and Hotel Indigo will be home to a 25,000-square-foot museum that opens to the public by summer of 2016, if the project's organizers have their way.

Donors Noelle, left, and Dick Wolf along with Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider break ground Wednesday on the Wolf Museum of Exploration and Innovation. (Lara Cooper / Noozhawk photo)

The museum will focus on exhibits centered on science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, learning opportunities. Plans include 17,000 square feet of exhibits, a smart classroom, a new media theater, a museum store and a rooftop sky garden.

The target age range of the museum is children ages 3 to 12, but exhibits and programs are for children of all ages.

Construction is beginning now and is expected to last about a year and a half.  

The project has long been in the city's pipeline, but it hit a hurdle when the state began to reclaim Redevelopment Agency properties, one of which was the museum site. 

City and museum officials fought hard to keep the site under city control, and the municipality now leases the site to the museum for a dollar a year under a 50-year ground lease. 

The project's fundraisers have raised $15 million of the $25 million needed to complete the building's capital campaign and that includes a $5 million endowment, which the organization is hoping to grow.

Designs for the new children's museum were created by the late architect Barry Berkus. (Courtesy photo)

"Please don't think of this as the end, it's only just the beginning," said board president Jill Levinson, who implored the community to continue giving to the effort.

Mayor Helene Schneider said it touches her heart to know that the building is the last design of late architect Barry Berkus, who died in 2012 and was a storied architect in the local Santa Barbara community and around the world.

"His last project is going to help shape the minds of the next generation and the generation after that," she said.

The space is projected to attract over 95,000 visitors per year, and will host more than 15,000 school children per year for a standards-linked program, which will align with the new Common Core State Standards for education put in place this year.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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