Kidzu Children’s Museum ready to grow

Photo courtesy of Jamie Holcomb.


By Fraser Sherman

CEO Jamie DeMent Holcomb says that when it comes to the Kidzu Children’s Museum in Chapel Hill, bigger is better.

Kidzu, currently located at Chapel Hill’s University Place Mall, will be expanding onto 45 acres the museum bought in January at 510 Mount Carmichael Church Road. Holcomb told The Local Reporter she hopes to see the first steps — a nature pavilion, outdoor classroom and small amphitheater — up and running by summer of 2025. More development will follow, enabling Kidzu to do “everything we currently do, only bigger and better, with access to the outdoors.”

Holcomb said Jon Mills and Tina Clossick started Kidzu in 2006 on Franklin Street as an informal learning place for kids. “It was always with the idea this was a starter location and it would continue to grow.”

Kidzu has grown since then to include a variety of activities and exhibits for patrons: a “makery” area for arts and crafts, painting, 3D printing, and a loom for weaving. In the Nest area for infants and toddlers, there are tunnels to crawl through and tracks and rolling objects for experimenting with gravity. Older kids can get their hands dirty in the garden areas. There’s also a special monthly program for neurodivergent children.

Holcomb says Kidzu will probably keep a presence in town even after development at the new property is complete. The museum has also purchased a large vehicle to serve as a museum on wheels they can take around the state to schools, libraries and small museums, promoting second- to eighth-grade STEM learning.

The expansion won’t come cheap. Buying the land was only possible because of donations, including $1.5 million from the Kenan Trust, plus a million from the Land and Water Fund for a conservation easement on the property. Kidzu’s website says 33 of the 45 acres are set aside for conservation.

The initial construction planned for next year costs $2 million. After that come three phases over five years with the first phase alone costing $20 million. The museum’s funding, Holcomb said, comes from memberships, visitor tickets, program fees, donations and government grants. There’s also a big fundraiser planned for Sept. 14 at Chapel Hill Country Club.

Holcomb said that while they’d looked at other sites that could provide space for maybe 20 kids engaged in outdoor activities, the board wanted more than a “postage stamp” outdoor space. Mount Carmichael Road “seemed perfect for a world class campus that has ateliers and makeries and indoor treehouses and informal learning opportunities.” The Kidzu board doesn’t have a master plan for the site yet, but they have concept drawings online.

Holcomb says she enjoys imagining what Kidzu can do with the property. Hiking trails, for instance. Sound gardens where wind, leaves and insects fill the air with natural noises. Space for teens to engage in STEM activities without having to mingle with younger kids.

Holcomb, a native North Carolinian, said she worked for the Museum of Natural Sciences 20 years ago. Between then and Kidzu she worked on Capitol Hill, started an organic farm, ran a couple of restaurants, and wrote cookbooks before joining the Kidzu board and eventually becoming CEO. “I told them I’d give them three months – that was three years ago.”

What keeps her going, she said, is that it’s so much fun. It’s a lot of work managing people and fund-raising “but I get to do it around people who are learning something new every day.” When it gets too stressful, she can just sit in the museum “with some construction paper and glue and a four-year-old and I ask them ‘What are you making? Can I do that too?’”

Fraser Sherman has worked for newspapers, including the Destin Log, the Pensacola News-Journal and the Raleigh Public Record. Born in England, he’d still live in Florida if he hadn’t met the perfect woman and moved to Durham to marry her. He’s the author of several film reference books and has published one novel and several short story collections.
This reporter can be reached at

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