Conny the Whale May Stay in West Hartford as Children’s Museum Finalizes Move – We-Ha

The Children’s Museum has issued an RFP for the cost of moving Conny across the street to land along Trout Brook Drive in West Hartford, and is seeking to temporarily move the Museum’s operations to the old space. Emanuel Synagogue preschool.

By Ronni Newton

Conny, the 45,000-pound, 62-foot-long replica of a giant sperm whale hand-built in West Hartford by the Cetacean Society and volunteers in 1975-76, was a visible symbol of the organization’s effort.” Save the Whale,” and while his fate is questionable since the land he’s on has been sold and is set to become apartments, Conny may be on the verge of getting a new home closer. some water.

The whale – named “Conny”, a nickname for “Connecticut” – was located on the grounds of the Children’s Museum, which will soon have to move due to plans to redevelop the property for multi-family residential use.

Kingswood Oxford purchased the 950 Trout Brook Drive property – which is adjacent to its campus – from the Children’s Museum, then known as the Science Center of Connecticut, Inc., in 2003. At the time, the Children’s Museum, which had moved to the site in West Hartford in 1958 was already planning to move.

In January 2022, Kingswood sold the land to Continental Properties, which plans to build a luxury residential development on the land which occupies a prime location just east of West Hartford Center. Plans for this project are being finalized and a special development district will likely be considered by the city council later this year.

The land directly across from the Children’s Museum, along Trout Brook Drive and owned by the State of Connecticut as part of the Trout Brook Greenway, has been identified as an ideal location to relocate Conny – keeping the whale at West Hartford, by improving the greenway, and preventing possible damage from a long move.

The Children’s Museum has put out a request for proposal for the move across the street, but expects the cost to be well below the hundreds of thousands of dollars – estimates as high as $400,000 – that it could cost to move the whale miles away, funds that are needed by the Museum for its programming and moving the exhibits.

Additionally, in order to transport Conny any distance, the steel and cement sculpture would likely have to be deconstructed into multiple pieces, with questionable impact on its structural integrity.

“In the best interest of protecting Conny, we are working with the Cetacean Society to identify a suitable new home,” said Children’s Museum Executive Director Michael Werle. “We believe moving Conny across the street is the most fiscally responsible option, will preserve an important Connecticut cultural asset, and enhance the Trout Brook Greenway.”

“We are excited to hear that there may be a home for Conny right across from her current location,” City Manager Rick Ledwith told We-Ha.com.We look forward to learning more about the viability of this plan.

The state must approve the plan, but no funds are requested beyond what the General Assembly has already appropriated through a deposit for the relocation of the Children’s Museum, which could include the cost of Conny’s move. The Cetacean Society, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, plans to help raise funds for Conny’s relocation as well as upkeep. The entrances will be permanently sealed in a way that blends into the existing structure – which should allay fears that the sculpture will become an attractive nuisance.

The Connecticut General Assembly designated the sperm whale a state animal in 1975 due to its specific contribution to the state’s history and its current status as an endangered species.

“We didn’t build it to be a playscape,” said David Kaplan, a lawyer who lives in West Hartford and president of the all-volunteer Cetacean Society International, previously. “We built it to draw attention to the danger whales face.”

Where is the Children’s Museum going – and when?

The Children’s Museum will need to relocate all of its operations by fall 2022 and has already announced plans to move its nursery school from Trout Brook Drive to part of the vacant Emanuel Synagogue space formerly occupied by Lollipop Tree Nursery School, which closed in the summer of 2020.

Immanuel Synagogue. Photo submitted (photo from file we-ha.com)

The space, at 160 Mohegan Drive, West Hartford, already has permission to operate a preschool, and no city action is required for the move. The preschool will open in the new location of the Emanuel Synagogue this fall.

The Children’s Museum also hopes to temporarily move its other operations to the Emanuel Synagogue space, while continuing to identify plans for a permanent space — the latter plans now focusing on opportunities in East Hartford.

The Emanuel Synagogue Board of Trustees has reached an agreement with the Children’s Museum to lease 7,618 square feet of unused space on the first floor of the building, and an application is currently underway with the city plan. and the West Hartford Zoning Commission, which will meet on July 6. A public hearing will likely be scheduled for August 8, 2022.

The Emanuel Synagogue currently has about 500 members, but the building and parking lot were designed for a membership of 1,000, so there is ample space.

“We believe this is a win-win proposition for Emanuel, as we gain a tenant whose mission is complementary to ours and help provide a transitional space for the Children’s Museum as they work to establishment of a permanent home in our region,” said Rabbi David Small. in a letter to the community.

“We believe that having a natural science education center for young children and their caregivers on our lower floor is a perfect fit for the space and will be consistent with the pleasant, family atmosphere of our neighborhood. We have ample parking on site and the expected volume of people attending will be modest. Educational activities and small animal habitat will be indoors,” Small said.

“Hosting the museum is consistent with the Emanuel Synagogue’s values ​​of being a good citizen of the community. We are happy to be able to help our community’s cherished resources in times of need. We are also happy to help realize biblical teaching, dating back to the story of Noah’s Ark, to nurture and care for living creatures. Most of the small animals that would be in our space have been rescued and rehabilitated. The Museum helps teach young children to understand and care for our natural environment. We look forward to welcoming the Children’s Museum to our neighborhood and hope you will too,” Small added in his letter.

Even if the Special Use Permit is granted, the majority of Children’s Museum operations – including animal exhibits and staff – will not be able to move to the Emanuel Synagogue, as the space is approximately 70% smaller than the existing installation. In order to accommodate the temporary move, the Children’s Museum plans to refocus its target audience and core activities on children ages 3-8 and their caregivers.

In the temporary space, all activities will take place indoors and there will be no field trips, school bus tours or summer camps. The Children’s Museum has proposed opening hours weekdays from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Saturdays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and will be closed during Saturday Sabbath services and holidays.

“The Children’s Museum is grateful to the Emanuel Synagogue for temporarily hosting our preschool and reduced museum with core activities preserved in its home on Mohegan Drive,” Werle said.

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