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Keystone Kidspace founders announced a $6 million capital campaign to transform the York Armory into an experiential learning center. William Kalina and Rebecca Klar, York Dispatch

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Six years ago, York mom and community activist Jessica Brubaker received a mysterious email from Louis Appell Jr. 

She had just come out of a Central Market board meeting, and the prominent York County philanthropist asked to meet with her to start on a new project, Brubaker said. Much to her surprise, when she met with him in February 2013, Appell didn't have ideas to run by her — he wanted to hear what she thought was missing in York. 

Instinctively, Brubaker said a destination for families.

"He looked me in the eye and said, 'If you can make that happen, I'll support you,'" Brubaker recalled. 

Although Appell died in June 2016, his support has lived on. In 2020, Brubaker's vision is set to launch: the Keystone Kidspace. 

The former York Armory building, 369 N. George St., will house the interactive, modern children's museum.

More: Keystone Kidspace set to occupy downtown Armory

The project is just shy of $1 million away from its $6 million goal, co-founder and capital committee co-chair Jenn Tansey said at a public kickoff event Thursday, Feb. 28. 

Early investors and a $2 million redevelopment grant from the state brought the project closer to fruition, but public support is necessary to get it over the finish line, she said. Those interested can donate at KeystoneKidspace.org

Keystone acquired the York Armory building in spring 2018. Renovations are set to start in the summer of 2019, with the opening date set for sometime in 2020. 

Brubaker and Tansey visited similar family centers across the country, taking inspiration to create a space and size catered to York's needs. 

The 16,878-square-foot building listed on the national Register of Historic Places is the perfect size, layout and location for the planned not-for-profit, Brubaker said. It's located near several schools in York City and the York Revolution stadium, as well as across from a lot with ample parking.

Terri Altland, York County History Center director of development, said the Keystone Kidspace is a great way to renovate the 1913 building. 

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"It's another opportunity to engage families and people downtown," she said. 

'Third place for families': Once open, the kidspace will provide York with the last piece of revitalization missing from the city, according to Brubaker. 

"We do a great job, an increasingly great job, at meeting the needs of young professionals and 20-somethings and empty nesters. We have a growing nightlife, lots of great rental apartments and increasing shopping opportunities," she said. "What we really believe has been missing is attention to kids and families as part of that revitalization story."

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Brubaker describes the Keystone Kidspace as a "third place for families," in addition to the home and school. The kidspace will offer opportunities for children to explore their interests in a range of fields, whether it be music, art or robotics. 

Between Brubaker and Tansey, the founders have five sons. They met as early parents at York Academy, and believe the kidspace will invite York County families into the city. 

The Kidspace's target age group is children ages 6 and up, with programs to engage children well into their teens. Activities will be constantly changing, meaning families can return. 

— Rebecca Klar can be reached at rklar@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_.

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