Following a 17-minute public hearing, the Sun Prairie Plan Commission recommended city council approval of a conditional use permit (CUP) for Explore Children’s Museum to open at 1433 and 1435 W. Main St.

City Planning Director Tim Semmann outlined in his staff report that the two tenant spaces south of the existing Subway restaurant at 1429 W. Main St. will be combined into one space to house the museum. Other than signage, there are no planned changes to the building’s exterior.

The museum intends to offer a range of permanent and rotating exhibits to encourage imaginative play, creative thinking, and hands on learning.

The museum’s letter of intent, “The goals of our organization are to provide families and caregivers with year round educational and recreational activities, school districts, child care centers and community organizations with a high quality educational resource for field trips, and engage community participation in the education and development of our children.”

In his report, Semmann backed an approval recommendation by the commission for the Explore CUP.

Regular hours of operation will be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day, with possible expanded hours to meet the needs of families with special needs children, and possibly one evening per month when admission would be free for Sun Prairie residents.

A floor plan of the building interior shows some of the exhibits outlined recently for a Sun Prairie Chamber of Commerce presentation, but also a balloon exhibit, a brick forest, an art room, a building block area, an area for toddlers, a toy train table, a scarf wall and a party room in addition to existing male and female bathrooms.

Museum operations will be facilitated by one full-time executive director and two part-time employees. During hours of operation, five staff members and/or volunteers will be present. Explore intends to begin interior work this May with a planned opening in October.

Although stating they were in favor, RJ Carpenter and Dick Wright — who own the building to the west that houses 608 Family Dental and Clements Vision Care — expressed concerns about parking. Wright said that when Culver’s Frozen Custard first opened immediately to the west of their building, the building would experience overflow parking from the restaurant. While that is no longer a problem because of the expanded parking lot at Culver’s, Wright said he doesn’t want the same experience with Explore.

Wright also expressed concerns about traffic flow, suggesting that Explore should allow the Main Street driveway to be Enter Only, with the Spahn Alley being an Exit Only driveway. He said he knows that making a left turn onto Main Street any time of the day from a Main Street driveway can be problematic, and expressed concern about traffic safety.

Both Wright and Carpenter raised concerns about pedestrians crossing from Explore to get to Culver’s, and suggested a fence might be a good idea to encourage pedestrian use of the Main Street sidewalk. They also expressed concern about concrete parking barrier remnants that need to be cleaned up.

Explore Board Member Kristin Wilkinson thanked Carpenter and Wright for raising those points.

Katey Kamoku from Explore said the landlord will be responsible for clearing all debris because the board and staff want patron safety to be a museum priority.

“We’re starting out small purposely,” Wilkinson pointed out, adding that the small 4,830 sq. ft. interior footprint is adequate despite the projections of 45,000 visitors a year.

Wilkinson said the parking is adequate for the amount of people that will be in the building at any one time. School groups will enter the facility through a different set of doors on the south end of the building.

Commissioners voted 8-0, with one member absent, to recommend final approval of the permit by the Sun Prairie City Council as part of its Tuesday, April 20 agenda.

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