MINNEAPOLIS – The venerable Bell Museum of Natural History will be getting a new home. After a decade of trying, a funding concept for a new building was worked out between the state and the University of Minnesota.
The 140-year-old museum has been housed for the last 75 years in cramped quarters at University Avenue and Church Street on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus. It will be relocated to a 12 acre site at Larpenteur and Cleveland Avenues on the Saint Paul Campus (Technically,the site is in Falcon Heights). The price tag is $51.5 million.
"The University, through the Regents will be bonding the amount for the New Bell Museum and Planetarium," said Steve Birke, Chair of the Bell Museum Advisory Board. "The state will then be paying for the debt services on that bonding for the next 25 years."
The Legislature voted to boost the state contribution to the University by $3 million each year to cover the cost of the debt servicing. Representative Alice Houseman, DFL-Saint Paul, was a main proponent of the funding solution.
"I have been working on it for a decade," explainedHouseman. "It has been a long time coming. There is a huge celebration going on."
Houseman said the new site will include the Museum of Natural History, a new planetarium and outdoor classrooms.
"The biggest complaint in Minneapolis was parking," saidHouseman. "Here, many, many school buses can come. The building will be large enough. In that other building, they could only accommodate two school groups at a time. Here there will sufficient room and a larger building, they can accommodate six school groups."
Many Minnesotans have special memories of field trips to the Bell Museum and its 30 animal diorama exhibits. The preserved animal specimens set against canvas scene paintings were a device to transport visitors to faraway venues. However, not all of the dioramas will be moving to the new location.
"Of the 16 large dioramas at the Bell Museum," said DonLuce, Curator of Exhibits, "Eleven of those are now planned to be moved."
Some will not be moved because they are not considered appropriate to the Museum's concept. That includes one exhibit featuring sheep on a Rocky Mountain backdrop.
"It is almost 100 years old," said Luce. "It was done before they really hit upon this concept of the Museum being this tour of the State of Minnesota."
Some of the exhibits aside, the building itself is in need of extensive renovation. It is to be recycled as the University of Minnesota College of Design.
"It lacks air conditioning," noted Birke. "It lacks tall enough ceilings to put the exhibits that we want to put in there and it lacks the space to add a planetarium and outdoor classrooms that we will have at the Saint Paul Campus."
Luce said in most cases, they will salvage the specimens inthe unused dioramas, but not the dioramas themselves. The idea is that the new Bell Museum will create nostalgia for new generations of Minnesotans.