Regents approve new Bell Museum construction

The University will ask the Legislature for $24 million for the building.

Amber Kispert

The Bell Museum of Natural History will migrate to the St. Paul campus and build a new nest to call home.

The University’s Board of Regents gave its final approval for the construction of the new $36 million facility.

The funding for the project will be put onto the University’s 2008 bonding request for $24 million and will be presented to the Legislature in the spring.

The remaining $12 million will come from private or federal appropriations.

Orlyn Miller, director of planning and architecture at the Office of Capital Planning and Project Management, said he feels the Bell Museum needs a new home.

“It was built when natural history museums focused on preserving and memorializing the past, rather than engaging visitors in the world in which they live,” Miller said.

Peggy Korsmo-Kennon, director of public programs for the Bell Museum, is the manager of the project and said she is very excited about the new building.

“It is a way for the Bell to be a destination for learning as well as for socializing and feeling connected to the community,” she said.

Nina Shepherd, Bell Museum spokeswoman, said the new facility will allow the museum enough room to host traveling exhibits.

“It’s a way for the museum to be able to get the bigger shows that bring in a lot of people,” she said.

A big reason for the Bell’s relocation is so the museum could be united with the St. Paul-based College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Sciences, Kennon said.

The relocation is also an opportunity for the museum to have an outdoor exhibit area.

Twelve acres of outside space will be dedicated to representing the three major ecosystems in Minnesota: prairie, northern coniferous forest and maple-basewood deciduous forest.

“These are not going to be re-creations of the habitats, but exhibits of the habitats,” Kennon said.

Trails and ponds will be included in the new site, as well as observation posts.

Kennon and Shepherd said they are also excited about the addition of a cafe to the museum.

“We want to be a place where people can come to talk about nature and science,” she said.

One way the Bell Museum will be engaging the community is the addition of a new exhibit called Minnesota’s Hidden Nature.

“It’s really looking at the hidden connections in the world around us,” Kennon said

“It will be a sort of walk-through Minnesota in a way that you never imagined,” she said.

Groundbreaking for the new facility is slated for summer 2008 and the doors will open to the public in 2010.

“The goal of the new building is to make the Bell more relevant and competitive by engaging, inspiring and motivating visitors to interact with the natural world,” Miller said.