Planetarium joins with Bell Museum

Both programs have recently struggled to find new facilities.

Greta Kaul

 

The University of MinnesotaâÄôs Bell Museum of Natural History is opening its doors to the Minnesota Planetarium Society.

After a year of negotiations, the two programs agreed to share space in the Bell Museum late last week. Both have recently struggled to find funding for new facilities.

The Planetarium Society has lacked exhibit space since 2002, when its former home, the old Minneapolis Central Library, was demolished. Since then, its hallmark has been the ExploraDome âÄî an inflatable, traveling planetarium that visits schools to teach children about astronomy.

State money for a new planetarium âÄî possibly on the roof of the new Minneapolis Central Library âÄî was canceled last summer.

Funds for a new Bell Museum were approved by the Legislature in 2008, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. The new Bell Museum, which had been slated to open in 2010 on the St. Paul campus, would have included outdoor ecosystem exhibits and room for traveling exhibits.

Though it has remained in consideration, the Bell Museum has been left off the UniversityâÄôs short list of construction projects since 2008. When the Board of Regents  started work on their 2012 Capital Request in early September, the Bell Museum again didnâÄôt make the cut.

For now, the Bell Museum and its collection of nearly 4 million specimens will remain at the vine-covered Church Street building.

The Bell plans to start fundraising soon in order to modify a museum classroom to be large enough for the ExploraDome, which requires a 14-foot ceiling clearance and a 31-by-31 foot floor space, said Susan Weller, director of the Bell Museum.

Weller said the Bell Museum is excited to host the ExploraDome and to make it available to University students.

âÄúIt seems totally appropriate,âÄù said state Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL, St. Paul, member of the House Capital Investment Committee and a longtime supporter of the Bell Museum.  But Hausman said she has her reservations.

âÄúI am very disappointed that the [University] has abandoned its goal to move the Bell to the corner of Larpenteur and Cleveland [avenues],âÄù she said, adding that the St. Paul location âÄî part of her legislative district âÄî makes it more accessible to the children of Minnesota.

Weller said she doesnâÄôt know whether housing the planetarium will help the museumâÄôs case for bonding money for a new building. The museum hasnâÄôt lost hope.

âÄúI donâÄôt think it will hurt,âÄù she said, though sheâÄôs not ready to make predictions.

âÄúI think this is the next phase of the Bell Museum and its ability to serve the educational research and outreach mission of our University and our state.âÄù

Through grants, gifts and fees, the planetariumâÄôs program has been self-sufficient, and will likely continue to be so, Weller said.

âÄúThe educational programs are merging, but the entities are not,âÄù she said.