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A $35 million hands-on outdoor sports exhibit is being planned at The Children’s Museum in Indianapolis in partnership with Riley Children’s Health to combat childhood obesity. (Dwight Adams/IndyStar)
Wochit

In all the surveys the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis conducted about what types of exhibits visitors might want to see, health and fitness exhibits always ended up next to last. At the same time, museum staff wanted to address childhood obesity, a persistent problem for Indiana.

The conundrum was finding a way to do that while engaging adults as well as children.

On Wednesday the Children’s Museum unveiled plans for the $35 million Riley Children’s Health Sports Legends Experience, which the museum calls a “new national model” for encouraging visitors of all ages to engage in and learn about physical activity.

The emphasis will be encouraging adults to engage in physical activity with their children, said Jeffrey H. Patchen, president and chief executive of the Children’s Museum. Many children play on sport teams, but they do not view exercise as a family activity.

“This will create a totally immersive environment,” he said. “This experience will allow parents and grandparents to get off the bench.”

Study after study has decried the growing rates of obesity among adults and children. More than 80 percent of high school students do not get enough aerobic physical activity and almost 30 percent of Americans older than six are not physically active

Indiana has the seventh highest adult obesity rate in the nation, with nearly 1 in 3 adults considered obese, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

When the Children’s Museum started thinking about who might partner with them, they approached Riley Children’s Health at Indiana University Health.

Collaborating on this project made perfect sense, said chief medical officer Dr. Paul Haut. Recently the entity formerly known as Riley Children’s Hospital tweaked its name to emphasize that its services go beyond the in-patient healthcare facility to include children’s health and wellness overall.

This exhibit will help introduce visitors to the joy of physical activity and encourage them to be active long after they leave the museum premises, he said.

“It’s not just about going to the experience. It’s about what do you take away with you when you go home,” Haut said.

Other partners include the Indianapolis Colts,  Indiana Pacers, Indiana Fever and Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The museum has raised all but $2.2 million of the $35 million needed to make the exhibit a reality. Of the $35 million, $23 will go to capital costs and $12 million to endow the exhibit.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who majored in architectural design, has been helping plan the addition, along with his girlfriend, Nicole Pechanec, herself an architect and former college athlete. He will continue to contribute to the planning and design process for the exhibit, planned to open in spring 2018.

At a news conference Wednesday about the new exhibit, Luck shared how he had become hooked on sports as a child. Although his family moved often (about 13 times by the time he was 11), Luck would always find friends through sports. Every night in the summer, he’d await his father’s return from work so they could throw a football or shoot hoops.

If his father wasn’t available, Luck would get his sister to play. Or his mother. Or neighborhood kids. In high school he played basketball and baseball and ran track. Then there’s football.

“So I think I truly do understand the power of sports,” he said. “I think this sports utopia is everything a kid could ever want.”

The 7.5-acre spread, the museum’s largest expansion in the past 40 years, will include an 18-hole mini-golf course, designed by Pete and Alice Dye; a small-scale baseball field; an Indy Fuel small-scale “ice” hockey rink, made of an artificial surface; and USTA tennis courts for younger children.

Built on the site of the parking lot to the north of the museum, the exhibit will feature a family fitness loop as well as an Indianapolis Motor Speedway pedal-car race track. The Indianapolis Colts football field will have full-size soft Colts “wobbles” for visitors to dart among.

There will also be a 60-foot climbing tree and basketball hoops of different heights on nine mini-courts. Admission for members will be included in the annual membership. Patchen said the museum is still determining how the experience would be priced for those buying day passes.

Museum staff estimate the experience will add an additional 275,000 to 500,000 visitors a year, to boost annual visits to 1.5 to 1.7 million a year.

The outdoor zone will be open at least seven months of the year and will be lit so it can remain open into the evening, Patchen said. Costumed interpreters will provide information about the various sport legends featured throughout the exhibit.

At Wednesday’s news conference, Luck quickly rattled off the names of five Indiana sports legends in his mind: Peyton Manning; DeMarcus Beasley, a soccer player with the American Dynamo; Larry Bird; former women’s soccer player Lauren Holiday; and former basketball player Oscar Robertson.

But he demurred when asked whether he should be included in the exhibit.

“I think I have some work to do to become a sports legend,” he said.

Call IndyStar reporter Shari Rudavsky at (317) 444-6354. Follow her on Twitter: @srudavsky.