DECATUR — The Children's Museum of Illinois will expand next summer with a two-story exhibit focused on law enforcement, funded by a $3 million grant from the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, museum officials announced Thursday.
The 7,000-square-foot expansion will be called "Heroes Hall," Executive Director Amber Kaylor said.
“We came up with the idea, put together a proposal specifically to the Buffett Foundation and Mr. Buffett was generous in donating the $3 million to make it happen,” Kaylor said.
Kaylor said the idea came from a conversation with her husband Bryan Kaylor, a 19-year veteran of the Decatur Police Department.
“It was just a random conversation we had when I first came director, and that planted the seed,” said Amber Kaylor, who became museum director Aug. 1, 2016. “It just grew from there, and our dedicated staff put it together.”
Kaylor said she and the staff decided to aim big, and was thankful Buffett agreed to the proposal.
“We didn’t want to do it halfway,” Kaylor said. “We’re an educational facility first and foremost, and this is an opportunity to educate on an even greater scale. We’re not only educating on the mechanics of law enforcement, but on the dedication to community and what it means to have that dedication.”
The addition will contain permanent interactive exhibits focused on highlighting the importance of law enforcement.
“They’ll show what law enforcement does for the community and why it’s a profession to be looked up to and why the police are people you go to when you need help,” Kaylor said. “There’ll also be programming opportunities where law enforcement comes in and interacts with children.”
The Buffett Foundation has made a number of large donations in recent years aimed at supporting law enforcement and increasing quality of life in the Decatur area.
Buffett has served as an auxiliary deputy for the Macon County Sheriff’s Office since 2012. His foundation has provided several grants to fund equipment and positions for the office. Most recently, Buffett donated $350,000 in May for training firearms, radios and five police vehicles.
Last fall, the foundation began construction on a $15 million law enforcement training facility on Decatur's south side. Slated to open later this year, the center will host new recruits from throughout the state and provide advanced training for police chiefs and command officers. It will be owned by the Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board.
Several of Buffett's recent gifts have also benefited the Decatur Park District. In October, he said the foundation would cover the $3.9 million cost of building a new amphitheater in Nelson Park, a key part of the long-term plan to develop more recreation opportunities near Lake Decatur.
At the same time, Buffett said he would contribute $2 million to extend the train at Scovill Zoo to wrap around the Children’s Museum. That announcement came on the heels of the July opening of a sculpture park between the zoo and museum, which was also funded by a $250,000 grant from the Buffett Foundation.
The foundation's recent gifts have extended to other areas of the community, too. It funded a new downtown headquarters for the United Way of Decatur and Mid-Illinois, which opened in February. Starting in January, it also paid to bring a 2-1-1- telephone information and referral service to Macon, DeWitt and Moultrie counties for the next decade.
In a statement Thursday, Buffett described the Children's Museum as a community asset and great place for families.
“Less visible is the role local law enforcement agencies play every day to keep our communities safe,” he said. “Our hope is this new exhibit enhances this valuable community asset while bringing much needed recognition to the individuals and organizations that make the quality of life here in Macon County so high.”
In addition, the Children’s Museum of Illinois is expanding partnerships with the Macon County Sheriff’s Office, Decatur Police Department and Decatur Park Police to create programming which will build relationships between children, parents, and local law enforcement officers.
“It’s going to really enhance that park and add attendance in that park,” said Bill Clevenger, park district Executive Director. “I can’t say thanks enough to Howard Buffett.”
Decatur Police Deputy Chief Jason Walker, Sheriff’s Lt. Tony Brown and Park Police Chief Ed Culp all spoke during the announcement at the museum Thursday, among other city and park district leaders.
“I’ve had the distinct honor of serving the community I was born and raised in for the last 27 years,” Culp said. “Through that time, law enforcement has been perceived by the public nationally in a positive and negative tone. However, here in Decatur/Macon County I have been proud to serve with some of the finest men and women in law enforcement to ever wear the badge.
“Their positive impact on our community is reflected in the addition being brought to our children, by the Children’s Museum of Illinois and The Howard G. Buffett Foundation.”