The ground pulsed Thursday morning as heavy equipment compacted the dirt that will form the foundation of the Mississippi Children's Museum in Meridian.
Executive Director Elizabeth Wilson said crews have been on site for about two weeks, creating the zigzag footprint for the 20,000 square-foot state of the art facility on 22nd Avenue.
"Our site manager has moved to town and is on site every day and so we are full-steam ahead with the site prep," Wilson said.
A celebration with donors is planned for next month, followed by what Wilson estimated would be an 18-month construction process.
Unlike the former Sears building, the museum will be located closer to the street with an art installation along the sidewalk.
"It will be hard to miss as you come down 22nd Avenue," she said.
A team has completed the design phase for 9,500 square feet of exhibits, which aim to spark imagination and encourage healthy habits.
Children will be able to climb inside a two-story structure shaped like a brain to explore neurological development and learn from an "emotional toolbox."
There will be a "tinkering lab" and other spaces dedicated to STEM subjects.
"Within this space, they'll explore different engineering principles, coding principles, and just the whole process of invention and problem solving," Wilson said.
The museum worked with Mississippi State University on a sleep exhibit focusing on the importance of routines and how much sleep a child should get at each age, according to Wilson.
The project will create 170 jobs during construction and approximately 25 positions when the museum is open, and there are currently openings for part-time office administration and a marketing coordinator, Wilson said.
Fundraising for the museum continues.
"We launched the Take Flight Mississippi campaign at the end of April and that is a campaign to ask our community to help us raise a million dollars towards the final project and we have raised over $400,000 of that," Wilson said.
The museum is expected to open in early 2021.
“We’re going to see over 51,000 visitors a year from a six-county radius and we will have about a $9 million-dollar economic effect on the community, once we’re open," Wilson said. "That’s a combination of our own spending as well as the investment in early education."