A new Kaleideum site overlooking Merschel Park took a step forward Thursday when the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners awarded a $2.5 million contract to Gensler Architecture, Design & Planning to develop documents for design and construction.

Assistant County Manager Damon Sanders-Pratt said it should take about 12 months for Gensler to complete the designs, allowing construction to go forward after that and wrapping up by January of 2023.

While Gensler is drawing up plans, the county will be arranging the demolition of both the former Sheriff's Office building on Third Street and nearby portions of Liberty Plaza.

"We are very excited that the county is moving forward with the project and the detailed designs," said Elizabeth Dampier, the executive director of Kaleideum. "These are the pieces that we will need to break ground and begin the construction on the building."

Forsyth County has committed $30.5 million toward the project, including $25.5 million in planned construction costs. Winston-Salem is contributing $2 million for the Liberty Plaza demolition and renovation.

Meanwhile, the task of Kaleideum is to raise the $10 million it will take to put new exhibits in the new building. Forsyth County won't build the new Kaleideum headquarters until the nonprofit has raised $8 million toward its goal. The group has raised $5.8 million so far.

Kaleideum came into being in 2016 with the merger of the Children's Museum of Winston-Salem and SciWorks. With the merger, officials in the organization started laying plans for a new site to replace the two existing locations.

The vote to approve the contract with Gensler passed on a 4-3 vote, with commissioners Fleming El-Amin, Ted Kaplan, Don Martin and Dave Plyler voting in favor, and commissioners Richard Linville, Tonya McDaniel and Gloria Whisenhunt opposed.

McDaniel said she voted against the proposal because Keleideum has not completed the fundraising to carry the project through.

"I don't want us to get stuck for even more," McDaniel said, referring to the prospect of having to pay more if the group's fundraising doesn't pan out.

Commissioners Linville and Whisenhunt said they voted against the contract to be consistent with their earlier stances on the project. Both said that they supported the Kaleideum project when the estimate stood at $17 million, but bailed when the cost topped $30 million.

All the commissioners on Thursday voted in favor of a separate resolution designating the $2 million the county is getting from the city for demolition to the Kaleideum project fund.

Sanders-Pratt said plans call for the demolition of both Liberty Plaza and the former sheriff's office building sometime in the spring. 

When finished, the new museum will anchor the southern end of Merschel Park, a downtown open space to the south of where Trade and Fourth streets intersect in the heart of downtown. Conceived as a central gathering place in 2003 when it was known as Civic Plaza, Merschel Park plans have evolved as the area around it has undergone construction and redevelopment.

Merschel Park is flanked on the west by One Park Vista, a residential tower, and on the east by the Pepper Building, recently renovated as a Hotel Indigo. Mayfair Street Partners is planning other development near the Pepper Building.

Forsyth County has already paid Gensler a little more than $400,000 under a separate contract executed in 2017 for conceptual designs.

The new contract will carry that work forward and through construction.

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