Bell Museum officials propose relocation to St. Paul campus

Courtney Lewis

As Scott Lanyon walks through the Bell Museum of Natural History on the East Bank, he notices some unwanted additions to the historic building.

For instance, golf balls have left cracks in the windows.

“It’s bound to happen in our location,” said Lanyon, the museum director, pointing to the neighboring fraternities on University Avenue.

And inside the museum, moths are eating the museum’s life-size animal dioramas.

“You can see damage occurring to the birds displayed,” said Matt Scott, a three-year museum employee. “Moths are getting into the dioramas and eating away at the feathers.”

For the past 18 months, museum officials have been working on a proposal and design for a new home on the St. Paul campus.

The museum, which has been located opposite the Armory since 1939, is a showcase of native Minnesota wildlife and features natural artwork.

“The Bell Museum is about education and the environment,” Lanyon said. “Those are two things that are central in Minnesota.”

Totaling 90,000 square feet, the proposed facility would not be much larger than the present location. But it would use space more efficiently, create more display options and increase space for the museum’s artwork.

The University approved the location at the corner of Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues last month. Lanyon expects preliminary designs for the project to be completed by the end of August.

Most museum collections are currently stored on the St. Paul campus, where much of the University’s environmental research is done. Moving the museum would bring the collections and the researchers together, Lanyon said.

“The education staff could learn more from the research staff and share that with the public on tours,” said Tammy Mercer, museum tour guide.

The new museum would also have air conditioning, which would keep the dioramas cool in the summer.

Lanyon said the current museum building is a historical artifact and that some are concerned about the move.

“There is a cost involved,” Lanyon said.

The final design proposal will include comments from Falcon Heights neighborhood residents. Museum planners will also submit exhibit ideas and suggestions on how to control traffic.

“I have no doubt that people around the University think this is a worthwhile project,” Lanyon said. “But the University has a lot of worthwhile projects, and our goal is to convince them this is a priority.”

Courtney Lewis welcomes comments [email protected]