With its invaluable collections of more than 4 million
But its cramped quarters can hold only 120 students at a time, forcing the museum to turn away thousands of young people every year.
It has room to display just a fraction of its collections, and the building has a leaky roof, cracked walls and mold and water damage in the basement. "It's barely accessible to people with disabilities," museum director
All those problems should disappear when the museum moves into a new, state-of-the-art home on the
U administrators and state lawmakers cut a rare, end-of-session deal last month to fund the
The new museum will enable Minnesotans to experience nature in ways they haven't imagined, Weller said.
The popular dioramas, valued at more than
It will give visitors access to more of the research conducted at the university and open new research opportunities for U faculty and museum associates.
There also will be more classrooms, laboratories, exhibit spaces and studios for artists to work on nature subjects.
"We will be able to double, if not triple, the number of visitors we serve daily," Weller said.
The new museum will be situated on 12 acres at the southwest corner of Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues, just off two major highways.
"It will be very accessible to the public, especially those who do not live in the city," Weller said. To alleviate the biggest complaint about the current location, the new site will provide plenty of parking spaces.
Up to 5 acres of the site will be developed, in collaboration with the
"We want to encourage observing nature and being in nature outdoors," Weller said.
The natural history museum is almost as old as the state.
The university and the museum's advisory board first started planning to build a new facility in 1995. Hausman said U officials first persuaded her of the need for a new building in 2004.
"It's a treasure that could be damaged or lost," she said. "It's history, and we were not taking care of it."
The U first asked lawmakers to fund the museum in a public works bonding bill in 2008. The DFL-controlled
Lawmakers approved funding the museum a second time in 2009, and Pawlenty again vetoed it. At the time, he said he did it to reduce state borrowing and "prioritize important state projects."
"It didn't fail because it was a bad project; it failed because a governor made a political decision,"
After those two setbacks, Hausman said, university administrators decided they had so many other building needs that they had to move on to other projects.
The university's mission is "research, teaching and public engagement," in that order, Weller said. "If it's a choice between investing in a research building or a teaching facility and a museum, the museum must wait."
Moreover, she said, during the Great Recession, cultural institutions across the country "weren't deemed essential" by government officials.
But Hausman didn't give up on the idea.
"I knew it still had to be done," she said. "The board members didn't give up. Private citizens carried the banner. I supported them."
But Pfannmuller, a retired DNR official who headed the advisory board's lobbying campaign, said Hausman was the key. Board members feared -- apparently mistakenly -- that this was the last year she would chair the Capitol Investment Committee, and because no other lawmaker championed the project as strongly as she did, their chances of getting funding in the future would diminish.
(Hausman is serving her third term as
The university did not include the museum in its bonding request this year, and DFL Gov.
Hausman inserted the project in the House bonding bill, but the
Then something unusually creative happened -- with help from Hausman's influential friends, Pfannmuller said.
CUTTING THE DEAL
At Hausman's request, House Speaker
Two of Hausman's powerful allies found the money. House Ways and Means Committee Chair
Earlier, Dayton had agreed not to line-item veto the appropriation.
A small army of museum and planetarium supporters waged an intensive lobbying effort.
"We were there constantly," Pfannmuller said.
She singled out two high-profile meteorologists,
"But Alice was just a bulldog, a great bulldog," Pfannmuller said of Hausman. "It couldn't have been done without her."
"What should have happened if the state of
And it should have been included in the bonding bill, which requires a three-fifths supermajority for passage "so that we don't get stuck with boondoggles," said Dean.
He sees it as a circumvention of the bonding process for political reasons.
The project isn't done yet. U bonds will pay for
Weller said the museum has raised
The museum is named after the late
"We live in a state where our natural history is a big part of our quality of life," he said. "Forests, waters, wildlife -- we can't take those for granted anymore."
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