March 11, 2022

Forward Community Investments (FCI) Provides $4.5 Million in New Market Tax Credit Loans to the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire (CMEC)


Inside children's museum of Eau Claire- children playing and exploring exhibits

Forward Community Investments (FCI) provided $4.5 million dollars in New Market Tax Credit loans to the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire (CMEC) to construct a multi-use community facility that will house a state-of-the-art children’s museum and additional space to provide quality early education opportunities for low-income youth in the Eau Claire area.

Eau Claire, WI –CMEC is excited to move from their current temporary cramped storefront into the new 25,000 square foot carbon-neutral LEED Platinum facility that will allow them to expand the museum and provide quality classroom experiences to 3–4-year-old children. The expansion of childcare services is made possible through a partnership with the Eau Claire Area School District’s Eau Claire (ECASD) 4 Tomorrow program which uses the Reggio Emilia Approach. Additional family supports in the new facility will be provided by the Family Resource Center (FRC). The goals for this project are to develop a welcoming space that will continue to serve black, brown, and indigenous, LGBTQ+, low to moderate-income, and all children and families in Eau Claire and surrounding rural areas; provide wrap-around services that fully engage families and provide supportive services and resources to parents; and serve as an anchor in the revitalization of Eau Claire’s central downtown area.

“It was under one year ago that we reopened our doors after being shuttered for 10 months. Although only in a temporary space that is 15% of the capacity of our former location, we still have managed to impact thousands of children. FCI’s investment makes possible a path to reemerge from the pandemic, but to also impact our community in a way we never have before. The resiliency of this community is once again on display as it has stepped up in amazing ways to make a new children’s museum and preschool a reality,” states Michael McHorney, CEO of CMEC.

CMEC has been in existence since 2000 and has served over 900,000 families and children. Since that time, they have identified the need for a more dynamic space that is seen not only as a children’s museum but as a hub for the community to access quality early educational and family resources.

This project will allow CMEC to continue its alliance with the FRC, a leading nonprofit organization that provides programs, services, and resources that address a variety of needs that parents encounter and help them be the best parents they can be. This is accomplished through offering no-cost programs such as the Positive Parenting Program which is designed to prevent and treat behavioral and emotional issues in children by the exploration of early childhood brain development and by FRC’s local partnerships with other community-based organizations, social service providers, and hospitals to provide a menu of wrap-around services that respond to the individual parents and children’s needs.

In addition to the partnership with the FRC, CMEC will also help increase access to Pre-K learning for children ages six months to five years in collaboration with the ECASD. In the first year of operation, the CMEC is projecting they will offer 40 seats for incoming students with a plan to increase that number to 100 by 2027. A tenant of the preschool curriculum will be to provide the students with the opportunity to learn practical life skills and build independence. They also plan to address the shortage of childcare workers by providing wages of up to $16 per hour which is approximately $4 above the average for similar providers in the Eau Claire area.

Robert Beach, FCI’s Community Lender and NMTC Program Manager shares, “The development of a welcoming space for the entire community that goes far beyond what a traditional children’s museum provides coupled with the dedicated space for early education and childcare made this an exciting opportunity for FCI and a great fit for our NMTC allocation. We understand just how critical access to affordable quality childcare is for working families and combining these services with CMEC’s mission of inspiring children and adults through unfettered play will benefit all individuals in the Eau Claire community for decades to come.”

Construction on the new museum, community space, and preschool will be completed in early 2023 and will be in full operation shortly thereafter.

About Forward Community Investments

FCI is an investor, connector, and advisor for organizations and initiatives that reduce social, racial, and economic disparities in Wisconsin communities. We envision an equitable and inclusive Wisconsin built on cooperative social action. In its capacity as a statewide community development financial institution (CDFI), FCI infuses capital into economically underserved communities and neighborhoods.;

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Read more about how to become an FCI borrower and how we work to direct our funds so as to help eradicate socioeconomic and racial inequities across the state.
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