Conny the Whale’s fate remains uncertain as Connecticut Children’s Museum prepares to move

WEST HARTFORD — The sale of the Kingswood Oxford school property that the Children’s Museum calls home has essentially put a timer on the museum’s 64-year stay at 950 Trout Brook Drive, while the fate of the iconic Conny the Whale remains uncertain.

The school announced it has reached an agreement to sell the land to Continental Properties, which plans to redevelop the property into a modern luxury rental community.

The museum expects to vacate the property in early summer and then move to a temporary location.

“We expect to have a temporary site nailed down very soon,” said Michael Werle, the museum’s executive director. “We do floor plans on a few sites. They are competitive, so we don’t want to say too much. We have a goal and plan to vacate the property in early summer to welcome Kingswood and its new buyer.

Along with the permanent location comes a decision regarding the iconic Conny the Whale statue that sits outside the museum. The 60-foot sperm whale was built by the Cetacean Society International 45 years ago as a symbol against the killing of sperm whales, which is also Connecticut’s state animal, and is now part of the identity and the museum branding.

Werle said in December it would cost at least $200,000 to move the whale.

The only decision that has been made so far about Conny is that the museum is unable to pay for the move and prefers to place that money in its permanent location.

“Conny’s story is a bit complex. We ended up taking the posture that we don’t own Conny, but we have a responsibility to care for Conny on behalf of the State of Connecticut,” Werle said. “We contacted a whole bunch of organizations to see who has an interest in this issue and what their preference is and what they want to do about it. It is a very expensive thing.

Werle said organizations and individuals the museum has spoken to about Conny include the state arts office, state tourism office, local legislators, the City of West Hartford, the City of Hartford and the original builders of the whale, the Cetacean Society International.

Werle added that he had received a verbal pledge of $50,000 which would be used to rescue and move Conny to her permanent location.

Werle said they hope to have a seamless transition of their museum exhibits and preschool to the temporary location, which he says should only be about 10 minutes away from their current location.

He said they hadn’t considered whether the museum would hold a special farewell event or conduct a quieter departure.

“We just haven’t thought about it yet because it has a lot to do with making this event a seamless event so that all of our customers don’t see it as disruptive,” Werle said. “Obviously we’ll want to take advantage of the event to some degree, but the board didn’t get it.”

The temporary location should have room for just about every item in the museum, including its exhibit and animals, but it’s unclear if they should cut some exhibits.

“The plan is to have is that we would be able to accommodate the kindergarten and the museum,” Werle said. “We may have to contract some of the museum’s exhibition space. We are working on this now to see what we should reduce. We try to keep that at a very marginal level. What we’ve told people is that the place we’re going either way is clean, safe, and easy to get to.

In December, Werle said he hoped to announce the permanent location of the museum, which he said would be in Hartford, by the end of 2021. All of the sites the museum is considering would require some sort of new construction or renovation. But he said they have yet to be able to finalize a deal.

“It’s screwed up and we’re struggling to get it over with,” Werle said. “We’re down to the last two or three sites and we’re hitting them to try and close something down, but unfortunately it’s not. We were hoping this would be really settled by the end of December, but it’s moving forward now and it will be the end of February before we can say anything. We hope to be able to say something. We are in pursuit.

In the meantime, Werle said the museum is trying to take a positive stance on its departure from a space that families and children have visited for decades.

“A lot of people are upset that we have to move, but we see it as an opportunity,” Werle said. “Facilities are limited. This is an opportunity to settle down for the next 50 years. We try to keep a positive attitude about all of this.

About Bobby F. Lopez

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