Children's museum to be closed for months

It could be the end of the year before it's safe for the Hamilton Children's Museum to open its doors again.
The Hamilton Children's Museum is closed for structural repairs. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The Hamilton Children's Museum will be closed for months while structural repairs are made to ensure the building is safe.

The museum, located in Gage Park at 1072 Main St. E., closed this week for "structural concerns" after engineers assessed the 19th-century house and found problems with the structure likely caused by age and the heavy traffic the 140-year-old building gets.

" It could take most of the rest of the year, possibly until the end of the year," said Ian Kerr-Wilson, the city's manager of heritage resource management.said.

"In a few months, we'll be back with great programming for kids. This is a little hiccup."

The city was conducting a routine inspection when it discovered some concerns and brought in Ojdrovic Engineering for a closer look.

The engineering firm noticed some "structural deficiencies" and recommended it be closed to the public and staff for safety reasons.

"The decision is pretty obvious," Kerr-Wilson said. "Public safety is paramount and there are clear issues that need to be addressed."

The problems lie in the joists and beams, and are not unexpected given that the aging two-storey brick masonry building sees a lot of foot traffic, Kerr-Wilson said. Some days, as many as 400 visitors go through the building. The city spends between $27,000 and $30,000 per year on maintaining the building.

Kerr-Wilson doesn't believe anyone has been in danger. The closure is precautionary.

"If you don't know what's going to happen, you have to act on the side of caution," he said. "This is public safety. That trumps everything."

Built in the 1870s, the building was originally a farmhouse for the Gage family. It has also served as a lawyer's office and a residence for park manager. It became a children's museum in the 1980s, Kerr-Wilson said.

The museum offers year-long programming, including a "brain teaser" event and a "Doo Wop Diner." The exhibit "Dolls and Toys: An Exhibition of Arts and Crafts from India" is also on display there. It currently employs five people, most of them part time.

The house is significant to the neighbourhood because it's part of a cluster of houses that were part of the original delta community at Main and King streets, said Robin McKee, a member of the Hamilton historical board and founder of Historical Perceptions. But it is not designated as a heritage property.

"It's traditional and average," he said.

The city isn't sure how much the repairs will cost, Kerr-Wilson said.

But staff and museum goers are disappointed with the closure.

"People have been knocking on the door and saying 'When is it going to be open?'" he said.