Refreshed and Refurbished: Phelps Youth Pavilion Open During Busy Summer Months | Local News

WATERLOO – With loud mechanical noises and a few thuds, the floor of the time machine rises, shakes and lowers.

Time travelers step out from behind the curtain and find themselves “transported” from the 21st century Phelps Youth Pavilion to ancient Egypt. Here they can send secret messages in hieroglyphs and learn to weave on a loom.

A short distance away, children romp and stom in “Dinosaur Ruckus”, explore prehistoric Earth through various activities including art projects, and marvel at real fossils on display. Elsewhere in the pavilion, children laugh and shout at each other as they climb up and down the two-story Phelps PlayScape, a climbing structure – always a hit with young visitors.






Ariana Osland, 8, drives a tractor simulator at the newly reopened Phelps Playscape at the Waterloo Center for the Arts in May.


Chris Zoeller



This summer promises to be busy at the Phelps Youth Pavilion.

After being closed for 15 months during the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a welcome change, said Kent Shankle, executive director of the Waterloo Center for the Arts. Although there is still ongoing construction and exterior upgrades outside its front doors, the facility is now fully open to the public.

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Phelps Playscape reopened earlier this spring and the “Dinosaur Ruckus” exhibit, which had just opened when COVID hit, is finally reaching its audience.

“No one wanted or expected to be closed for 15 months, but we decided to take the opportunity to evaluate our exhibits and make updates and repairs and change or swap less popular exhibits. Some of the older exhibits weren’t as polished as we would like, so we took the opportunity,” he said.







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Kent Shankle, Executive Director of the Waterloo Center for the Arts, stands next to the Hieroglyphics activity at the newly reopened Phelps Playscape in May.


Chris Zoeller



“We wanted to give the kids something new, fun and refreshed when they return to the Pavilion.”

Caylin Graham, manager of Phelps Youth Pavilion, said the variety of updates and repairs required would not have been possible during normal hours. There are around 40 hands-on exhibits, plus activities ranging from drawing and painting to high-tech adventures and gallery exhibits designed to spark kids’ creativity and imagination. “It’s hard to close or separate areas to make these kinds of changes with kids coming in,” she explained.

A talented artist, Graham has also brought out her paints and brushes to create new murals for several exhibitions. The Pavilion’s beloved Tap-Tap Taxi, which gives visitors the experience of riding down a bumpy Haitian street, has also had a facelift.

“Children love the taxi and it is used a lot. I thought it needed repainting and decided to amp up the colors,” Graham said.

A section of the pavilion rooted in Iowa agriculture has also been refreshed. There’s a tractor kids can ride on and take a virtual spin through a Grant Wood landscape, a chicken coop to collect and count eggs, a one-room schoolhouse, and a red barn where kids can ‘milk’ the cow – another delight for the public.

“We wanted the exhibits to be more authentic,” Shankle said. In addition, a classroom where customers can hold children’s birthday parties has been dug into the digital art studio.







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Large bongos will be part of the new musical instrument park that will be installed outside the Phelps Youth Pavilion this summer.


COURTESY PHOTO


Later this summer, several Kaleidoscope Planter sculptures by RC Anderson and a musical instrument park will be installed in the plaza outside the pavilion. “We wanted to take the Youth Pavilion experience outdoors,” Shankle explained. Interactive, perfectly tuned sound instruments will allow people to create hands-on musical experiences, including larger-than-life bongos, cymbals, bells, and glockenspiel.

The pavilion, located at 225 Commercial Street, is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $5 per person; $2 with the EBT card; and free for members and children under 1 year. Tuesday is reserved for tour groups.

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