Staff Spotlight: Karl Nilsson
Karl Nilsson is KidsPlay’s Exhibits and Facilities Manager. Read this Q&A to learn more about how his work makes the Museum tick!
Q: What do you do at KidsPlay?
A: I work for KidsPlay as the Exhibits and Facilities Manager. For the exhibits side of my job, I spend a lot of time maintaining the existing exhibit pieces, ensuring everything is working and looking its best. I’m also lucky enough to spend some of my time designing, building, installing and modifying exhibit pieces.
For the facilities side of my job, I spend a lot of time maintaining the equipment that most people don’t think about such as changing air filters and lightbulbs, testing emergency lights and fire alarms, or fixing that clogged sink.
I’m also heavily involved in the work of renovating our new building, 57 Main street, as a project coordinator. I take information and quotes I get from our vendors, gather the input and the decisions made by the Physical Environment Committee, then make things happen by scheduling and working directly with the contractors. This part of my job is group effort for sure.
Q: What’s your favorite part of working at the Museum?
It’s hard to pick a favorite part of my job actually! On the exhibits side of things, I love starting with an idea, prototyping, rebuilding, and putting one of my creations in the hands of the kids. I love creating the magic and science they get to play with here. It’s an honor to have some of my toys played with and loved by so many people.
For the facilities side of my job, I’m lucky enough to work with a fantastic team of vendors, contractors, board members, and building officials. I am constantly learning something new about electrical, plumbing, carpentry, etc. from them. It’s also been a fantastic experience to watch the 57 Main project go from a bare-bones building structure, to a place where families are gathering and enjoying the work we do here.
I also sometimes get to interact with the families and children that visit us, which is always rewarding – from teaching kids how our catapult at Pumpkin Chuckin’ converts Potential Energy to Kinetic Energy, to answering as many questions as that 5 year old can ask while I’m fixing a piece on the floor, interacting with the kids, when I have the chance, is definitely a favorite part of my job.
Q: Can you tell us a fun fact?
A: About me or the museum? A fun fact about me, I’ve got a lot of hobbies, but by far and away my favorite is my miniature home railroad. I’ve got about 100’ of 3.5” gauge track to ride my electric and live steam trains in my backyard. My wife, Mary, and I love hosting friends and family, especially when it’s nice enough to “go play trains” and cook out in the yard.
A fun fact about the museum? Hmmm… I find the history of the 3 buildings that KidsPlay inhabits fascinating!
- The “Center Gallery” of the museum, was once Brooks Bank and Trust and the building was built in the late 1940’s. It’s truly an engineering marvel with its massive steel vault door and feet-thick reinforced concrete walls.
- The “North Gallery” of the museum was the Quality Shop, a Torrington staple, where for many years folks shopped for their dress clothes. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with many of our visitors who recall getting fitted in the basement dressing rooms of the Quality Shop.
- And last but certainly not least, the new “South Gallery,” was built in the mid 1950s as “Woolworth’s Store #471” (according to the inside of the original electrical panels.) It’s been fascinating to watch the layers of time pulled back as we went through the renovation process on this building. We saw the remains of a beautiful wood ceiling, “groovy” retro advertising, parts and systems that fed the lunch counter, and even evidence of air conditioning back in 1955! This building is similar to many of the other Woolworth’s stores back in the day and is a fantastic reuse example. If you look around a few other towns in CT, you can see its surviving sister buildings (though in my opinion, this is now the nicest one.)