LANGLEY — Imagine the city’s old fire hall on Second Street filled with the pitter-patter of raindrops — and the footsteps of wee ones.
It sounds good to the city council, if the reaction at this week’s council meeting was any gauge.
Tom Lindsay, a Freeland resident who has designed and built interactive waterworks displays for children’s museums around the country, gave city officials a comprehensive outline of installing such a feature inside Langley’s surplus firehall.
Langley leaders are considering proposals for the next tenant at the fire hall, so the back end of the building can be filled following the departure of Michael McMahon and his business, Old World Ales and Lagers, late last year. The front end is currently leased by Callahan McVay, for his glass-art studio Callahan’s Firehouse.
Lindsay said the rear of the building would have room enough for one of his waterwork creations, which usually feature a series of pipes, trays and tubs where kids young and old can see and play with water in high action, from vortices to sprays to curtains of H2O.
Lindsay, however, wouldn’t take credit for the idea to convert part of the fire hall to a family-friendly water feature. He said Mully Mullally, the founder of the nonprofit South Whidbey Children’s Center, asked him to come up with such a plan when the city first started its search a few years ago to find a tenant for the surplus fire hall.
Interactive waterworks displays have proven popular at children’s museums across the country, Lindsay said, adding that his installation in the Sante Fe Children’s Museum made the attraction an even bigger draw.
“When it opened, the attendance for that museum went up 20 percent and it stayed,” Lindsay recalled.
“It’s now 8 years old and it’s still the most popular exhibit,” he added.
Langley currently attracts an adult tourist crowd, but such an exhibit could draw kids and their families to town. He said it could be a boost to businesses in the city and across the island.
“I think about it as fulfilling a need that we have in Langley … to make Langley child-friendly. This city and really our whole island is very adult friendly. We cater to adults,” Lindsay said.
“The reason that kids don’t come here is because there’s really very little to do here. People come to shop and to recreate and to dine, and they leave the kids at home most of the time,” he said.
Interactive children museums are the fastest growing segment of the museum industry in the country. In 1975, there were 38 children’s museums in the country. Since then, a new children’s museum has opened, on average, every 9.5 weeks, Lindsay said.
Children’s museums are also quite resilient during down economic times, too.
“The economy sucks; it’s bad. Parents and larger communities are still willing to invest in their kids, and in recreational, educational opportunities,” he said.
“They are sure winners,” Lindsay said of interactive waterworks exhibits. “Kids and water are just a pretty irresistible combination.”
The city is in its initial steps of figuring out what to do with the unused space in the fire hall. In January, local metal artist Tim Leonard asked the city to consider leasing the facility to him so he could move his artist’s studio from Saratoga into town.
At Monday’s meeting, city officials wondered if Langley, and the fire hall, would be big enough to make a waterworks venture possible. Lindsay said yes, and if the front of the fire hall ever became vacant, the display could be expanded.
Mayor Larry Kwarsick said such a project would take time, however, and he suggested working with the parks district to find grants that could help pay for the enterprise.
“This is not something that happens overnight,” Kwarsick said.
“I don’t think this is a magic wand that, all of a sudden, it would bring people back in,” he said. “But it’s certainly one of those incremental activities that the council could consider to start attracting young families back. It would put our name on the map.”
Councilwoman Rene Neff said the project could turn out to be a “fabulous first step” in attracting young families to Langley.
She recalled the much different demographics that existed on the South End when she first started as a teacher here.
“There were seven classes of every grade and now there are two at the most. I would dearly love to see this district grow again and South Whidbey grow again.”
Neff also recalled taking her grandson to the children’s museum in Everett last summer, and the museum there has a small waterworks display.
“He spent about 25 minutes totally engulfed in that water exhibit,” Neff said.
As far as popularity, she noted it was the middle of the week when they visited the museum.
“The whole museum was packed with lots and lots of people and kids,” she said.
Terri Arnold, executive director of the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District, said city officials would need to present a proposal to the parks board if they hoped to get the district’s support.
Kwarsick promised a show of force at an upcoming meeting.
“You’ll have a herd of people,” he said. “A small herd.”