U museum plans create concerns

Christopher Aadland

As progress on the University of MinnesotaâÄôs new Bell Museum of Natural History inches forward, some leaders involved in the planning process have expressed worry regarding the buildingâÄôs design. Legislators and museum board members have voiced concerns over scaled-back design proposals, which have removed about one-third of the originally proposed 92,500-square-foot building. Under the new conception, amenities like a basement, classroom spaces, an auditorium, a display area and storage spaces have been taken out âÄî features supporters say they expected to be included when state lawmakers agreed to pay for $51.5 million of the $57.5 million project. âÄúThereâÄôs a little bit of a feeling that stakeholders havenâÄôt been at the table,âÄù said Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who helped spearhead the campaign to secure state funding for a new museum. âÄúWe just want to be convinced that they can do that in that smaller footprint.âÄù Years after an initial push to acquire state funding to build a new museum, the state Legislature agreed to pay for most of the cost of the new museum in 2014, with the remaining expenses funded through private donations. But limited funding and unanticipated costs have forced planners to reconsider what to include in the project, said Ford Bell, the former president of the American Alliance of Museums and former member of the Bell Museum Advisory Board. His grandfather is the museumâÄôs namesake. âÄúWould I like to build the original museum? Yes, but we donâÄôt have enough resources,âÄù Bell said. âÄúThe question is âĦ [whatâÄôs] the balance between underbuilding and overbuilding.âÄù Since 2013, the University has cut down on the planned amenities and changed design firms after an external consultation determined the University should reduce the buildingâÄôs size to save money. But Lee Pfannmuller, chair of the advisory board, said those spaces should be included because they would improve visitorsâÄô experiences at the museum, especially for groups of school-aged visitors. Rep. Lyndon Carlson Sr., DFL-Crystal, said itâÄôs important that any layout for the museum contain classrooms and storage in order to maximize efficiency. Pfannmuller said unanticipated costs for new displays for the facility also contributed to the projectâÄôs changes. Outdated and inadequate amenities such as the current buildingâÄôs lack of air conditioning and wheelchair access, poor plumbing and unsafe unloading areas for school buses showed the need to replace the 83,000-square-foot space, which was built in 1940, said Vice President for University Services Pamela Wheelock. The current Bell Museum is located on the East Bank campus at the corner of Church Street Southeast and University Avenue Southeast. âÄúThe current design was a beauty back in the 1940s for the purpose that was envisioned,âÄù Pfannmuller said. âÄúItâÄôs more challenging to use the space in some of the new ways museums use spaces today.âÄù While no design is finalized, the layout of the building will be discussed at a meeting scheduled for this weekend. Wheelock said the meeting should help ease anxieties around the design of the new museum. Still, Wheelock said any new building would be an improvement over the old Bell Museum. She said she expects to present to the Board of Regents the first phases of the design of the building in September. The new museum is expected to be completed sometime in 2018 and will be located at the corner of Cleveland Avenue North and Larpenteur Avenue West on the St. Paul campus. âÄúWe do not only want [museum visitors] to come and be impressed and enjoy the experience the first time,âÄù Wheelock said. âÄúWe want them to come again and again.âÄù