Nothing says Bakersfield quite like a Lemucchi Grocery delicatessen with garlic and sausage hanging from the ceiling, police and fire stations equipped for any task, and an Italian chef flinging pasta in his restaurant.
Now just imagine it all in miniature play form in one room at the Kern County Museum and you have just entered STEAM Town. Population: a bunch of excited children.
This mini Bakersfield is part of the Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center, which will be holding a grand reopening from noon to 4:30 p.m. Saturday along with the grand opening of STEAM Town.
There will be crafts, food vendors, a DJ and face painting. The space will officially open to families Aug. 13.
STEAM Town is an interactive play space where children can use their imaginations and experience careers in science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics through creative play. There are different stations that relate to various Bakersfield-centric careers where children ages 2 to 6 can dress up and play pretend.
"We’ve added a local flair. The grocery store is Lemucchi’s, the restaurant is Luigi’s, there's an AltaOne Federal Credit Union," said Nicole Bolinger, who does community engagement for the museum. "We tried to make it Bakersfield iconic."
Other STEAM Town features include a fire station, police crime lab, a Grimmway farm, Dignity Health hospital with a Hall Ambulance, Kyle Carter Homes construction site, a ball pit that acts as a swimming pool and a gas station.
The play space, which is located in one wing of the Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center, was previously home to Kid City. Though there are some similarities between the two, Shannon Fowler, educational programmer, and Brenna Charatsaris, event director, said STEAM Town is that times a thousand.
"There's a lot more to do. They can be busy for over an hour," Fowler said. "Before there were things to do but not for hours. This is a place they can come with their five best friends and get lost."
"It wasn’t grand, this is grand. This is brighter. This is really stimulating," Charatsaris added.
The "mastermind" behind the town was Mike McCoy, executive director of the Kern County Museum.
The Lori Brock Children's Discovery Center also received a fresh coat of paint, new furniture, murals completed by artist Roy Goldstein and a party room.
Construction began in April and STEAM Town was paid for with a $30,000 grant. Chevron was also a main sponsor.
The push for STEAM Town came as a result of seeing the community embrace STEM and STEAM learning. School districts are adding extracurricular activities, summer programs and electives that focus on science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics fields to introduce students to them and encourage pursuing them as college majors and careers. Now toddlers and young children not yet enrolled in school can get that same exposure in a fun setting.
"We are a discovery center and we can feel there’s growing and changing in the community based on science so we want to be a part of that," Fowler said. "We continue to believe that hands-on is one of the best ways for kids to learn, so if they’re doing and experiencing they’re going to be learning that much faster and the retention is going to be so much better."
Another bonus: It is all in one room, which means parents do not have to worry about their children getting too far away.
"Your kids will be so busy engaged in so many different things that parents will have an opportunity to watch and enjoy and carry on conversations with friends," Charatsaris said.
The hope for the grand reopening of the discovery center and the addition of STEAM Town is that local families will want to stop by and experience all that is available to them and encourage out-of-town friends and families to do the same. A resource table will be an ongoing feature with information on various county programs.
This is also just a taste of what is to come. There will be future additions that bring more STEM and STEAM learning opportunities for older children, one of which will be Idea Lab Kids STEAM workshops and classes geared toward children ages 4 to 14. Classes will begin in September.
"People grew up knowing Pioneer Village, but as adults they haven’t come back. We want them to know there’s stuff for their kids to do and stuff for you to enjoy," Bolinger said.
For more information, visit kerncountymuseum.org/lori-brock-discovery-center.