2021 | Schools

KID Museum finds new home in downtown Bethesda

New site for hands-on STEM programs expected to start up next year

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KID Museum officials announced Wednesday the acquisition of a 28,000-square-foot space at 3 Bethesda Metro in downtown Bethesda. They plan to have a grand opening in early 2022.

Photo By Dan Schere

The headline on this story was updated at 1:17 p.m. June 30, 2021, to better reflect KID Museum’s plans.

The coronavirus pandemic has presented unique challenges to Cara Lesser and her colleagues at KID Museum. 

Lesser, who is founder and director; her staff; and students currently use the basement of the Davis Library in Bethesda. Having hands-on lessons about science, technology, engineering and mathematics can be a challenge in roughly 7,500 square feet, even without a global pandemic.

On Wednesday — after years of searching — Lesser and other community partners announced the acquisition of 28,000 square feet at 3 Bethesda Metro Center, in downtown Bethesda. The museum plans to move in and have a grand opening there next year.

Lesser said in an interview that the new location is great in many ways. Its near a Metro station, with plenty of parking and a built-in bus turnaround stop.

It also meets the growing demand for the organization’s programs with Montgomery County Public Schools and other community partners. 

“It was really urgent to be able to cross this finish line finally, and have some expanded space for the hands-on maker programming that we provide,” Lesser said.

The new location will be an innovation hub with space for elementary and middle schoolers to learn about coding, robotics, electronics, textiles/fiber arts, 3D printing and other similar skills.

Montgomery County provided $1.2 million in its recent budget to KID Museum, which Lesser called a “substantial” sum to help secure the space and increase programming countywide. She said it will allow the organization to increase from serving about 50,000 kids a year to more than 100,000. 

The pandemic has shown how important it is for young students to learn about STEM, and how it can prepare them for future jobs, she said.

“We’ve been living in an all-digital world for the past 15, 16 months,” Lesser said. “So just understanding how you communicate and collaborate in a digital setting … but I think it’s really much more than that. … It’s learning to be adaptable and innovative and bring that creative problem-solving mindset to the world of work.” 

KID Museum and other county officials and partners had been looking throughout the county for additional space, including in Silver Spring.

Robbie Brewer, a real estate attorney with Lerch, Early and Brewer in Bethesda, said he’s been working with KID Museum for about five years, including as a member of the board of directors for at least two years. 

Brewer said the search for a bigger location began when he first started working with KID Museum. There were a lot of needs, he said — not only for accessibility, as Lesser described, but also physical space requirements, like high ceilings for the type of programming KID Museum offers. 

He and colleagues at Lerch, Early and Brewer have done pro bono legal work for KID Museum.

Brewer knows the new space well. His firm was on the building’s third floor for about three decades, he said.

A rendering of how the new KID Museum space will look

The announcement of the new space has “been a long time coming,” he said.

“It comes at a great time because maker-based learning [programs] … are particularly important now because we’ve had this disruption due to the pandemic,” Brewer said. Some young students have done well during that time, but others haven’t.

KID Museum restarts in-person programming in July. The innovation hub at 3 Bethesda Metro Center is scheduled to start in early 2022, according to a news release.

Lesser said community buy-in for the space was key, and has been throughout the search.

“We were really met with open arms right away from the school system, and local government and so many partners to make this happen. … I think this location, and this particular time, when the need is so exacerbated coming out of the pandemic, it’s just right time, right place,” Lesser said.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com