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Paso Robles Children's Museum plans outside play area

A fire truck treehouse will be installed outside Paso Robles Children's Museum, and as part of the project, this lawn is being replaced with native plants, rubber and wood chips to save water.
A fire truck treehouse will be installed outside Paso Robles Children's Museum, and as part of the project, this lawn is being replaced with native plants, rubber and wood chips to save water. Courtesy of Wright Landscape

A new outside area geared toward imaginative play will be ready for children this summer at the Paso Robles Children’s Museum in a move that also will save water.

The $65,000 project will be paid for with donations in honor of museum co-founder, the late Tom Martin. 

A fenced-in area, shade structure, picnic benches and native plants will be completed within two months, followed by a treehouse built to look like a firetruck this summer.  Firetrucks are a running theme at the museum because it’s housed in the former Paso Robles Volunteer Firehouse at 623 13th St.

The groundbreaking took place April 2 and involved removing 2,700 square feet of turf from the museum’s side yard. 

“The kids that come here love to play — and they play hard,” said Jennifer Smith, the museum’s executive director. “Having another place to do that just adds to the overall experience.”

The museum’s board of directors had been brainstorming ways to expand into an outside play area for several years, Smith said, and then jumped at the chance to kick off the effort to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of Martin’s death on April 2, which organizers said was a lovely way to remember him.

“It’s wonderful that on the day we are mourning the loss of my dad exactly 10 years ago, that we are continuing to honor his legacy,” Laura Martin Sherlock said in a statement. 

Sherlock is a museum board member. 

Given the ongoing drought, the museum is taking advantage of the city’s turf removal rebate program where applicants can receive a rebate up to $500 if they swap out grass for native landscaping.

In total, the museum will remove all of its grassy areas, which Smith said totals about 3,700 square feet. In 2014, the museum spent more than $2,800 on its city water bill, and Smith estimates that 95 percent of that went to watering the lawn.

“We’re not utilizing the grass enough right now. And grass is just not the answer in the current condition of our state drought,” she said. “We’re definitely proud that we are doing our part to save water.”

The treehouse will be built by Daniels Wood Land of Templeton and will play off the company’s pirate ship design that includes an elevated pirate ship, playhouse, deck and slide — except that a firetruck will replace the ship. The company is evaluating whether it can incorporate parts from an actual firetruck, Smith said.

The nonprofit museum, which opened in 2007, attracted 18,975 visitors last year, up almost 22 percent from the previous year, Smith said.

An undisclosed private donor recently began the effort to create the outdoor play area by committing to a matching fund of up to $15,000 for the treehouse. 

Those who donate $125 or more will receive a custom handprint tile or a commemorative brick, and a free museum membership will be given to a local family in need. For more information on the project or how to donate, contact Smith at jennifer@pasokids.org or 238-7432.

For more information on the museum, visit http://www.pasokids.org

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