Museum gets one last shot

After nine years, Rep. Alice Hausman is still fighting to renovate the Bell Museum.

Nathaniel Rabuzzi

The Bell Museum of Natural History’s renovation was not included in the University of Minnesota’s 2014 capital budget request, but a state legislator still plans to advocate for state money for the project.

The University Board of Regents approved the 2014 request last week, which asks for about $233 million in state funding for construction projects. Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, said she will exceed that request when authoring this year’s bonding bill.

In addition to the six construction projects listed on the University’s request, Hausman said she will add the Bell Museum to the House’s bonding bill. It’s a request she’s been trying to fund since 2004.

If passed, funding for the museum would be used to build a larger, more advanced facility and a planetarium on the University’s St. Paul campus.

Hausman, who has a history of advocating for construction projects around the University, said this upcoming legislative session is the “last chance” for the project’s renovation to obtain state funding.

She said because it’s her last year as chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee, and because the University has not shown recent interest in asking for funding for the project, this is the museum’s final shot.

“At a certain point you say, ‘If it doesn’t happen this year, this is never going to happen,’” Hausman said.

In the capital budget request, which will be presented to legislators in February, the University prioritized construction projects like renovating the Tate Laboratory of Physics, which calls for $56.7 million in state funding.

The 2013 bonding bill, which Hausman sponsored, included $47.5 million to create a new Bell Museum on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

Last year, Hausman said, legislators wouldn’t fund the project because some didn’t consider the museum’s renovation a priority for the state.

Capital investment committee member Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, who voted against the bonding bill last session, said the museum was being measured “against all the other needs” that were across the state.

Dean said he would support the renovation this year but won’t fully back it until he’s seen all of the projects on the bill.

“There’s always this politicizing of the bonding bill,” Hausman said, “and they tend to [take out] metro projects that are museums and art.”

The committee plans to tour the University campus at the end of October to see which areas need state funds, Hausman said.

Because of a slim amount of time allotted for the tour, she said, she’s concerned that some legislators won’t have time to see the museum.

Hausman said she plans to draft this year’s bonding bill after the tour, which includes projects statewide.

And to avoid having separate bills on the floor — one each from the Senate, governor and House — she said she wants to collaborate with the Senate, the governor’s office and Republican legislators while drafting the bill to increase its chances of passing.

“We just have to do it differently here,” she said. “We just have to.”