Replacing history

The University of Minnesota is seeking funds to construct a new $36 million museum on the St. Paul campus as a replacement to the Bell Museum of Natural History. The building is part of the never-ending quest to be one of the top three public research institutions in the country. This is an unnecessary expenditure. I cannot see how, during an era of recession and rising tuition rates, that the University could justify seeking $36 million to replace a perfectly good museum. The Bell museum of Natural History currently sits near the knoll area of campus, situated on Church Street, nestled between Pillsbury hall and the Armory. The rustic building is covered with vines, foliage and natural color, all of which add an appropriate touch of refinement to a historic section of campus. The current museum utilizes three floors and features multiple exhibits. The Bell is complete with a tropical rainforest recreation, an exhibit featuring MinnesotaâÄôs federal duck stamp artists and a touch-and-see exhibit that was the first hands-on natural history exhibit in the country, just to name a few features. The museum was founded in 1872, and was moved into its current location in the 1930s. The building is sophisticated and its weathered wood that borders the exhibits constantly remind its visitors that many people have walked the hallways of the museum before them. The proposed Bell Museum construction is not an anomaly. While some buildings, such as the Science Classroom Building, need to be replaced, the University is continuously spending money for unnecessary developments. Construction of these buildings may create jobs, but the money spent is at the expense of the taxpayers and students. The museum is fine and the reasons to build a new museum donâÄôt merit $36 million in taxpayer dollars. Imagine if the Legislature would take just $2 million out of the proposed plan and allocated the funds to tuition relief for students: The new museum would still be a $34 million building, and the University would be able to pay the tuition of 185 students. Or, the tuition of all 28,505 undergraduate students on campus could be lowered. One thing is certain: The University does not plan on making a profit with this building. According to the museumâÄôs attendance records, the Bell sees an average of 53 paid attendees a day, which pulls in about $265 a day. If the new building is built and attendance patterns remain stable, it would take over 372 years to match the funding proposal through attendance figures alone. The University is using play money and the banker is handing out unlimited funds. The Legislature is likely to approve funding for University facilities and thereâÄôs virtually nothing that the students can do to stop increasing tuition costs. The University will continue to spend millions of dollars in order to improve their image and possibly achieve their desired status as a top three public research institution. The Bell Museum is fine as it is. The artifacts found inside of it are provocative and informational. It doesnâÄôt need to be replaced, because it is full of what it advertises: history. Bobby Downs welcomes comments at [email protected]