U to seek funding again for new Bell Museum

The University of Minnesota will try again in 2009 to get state funding for a new building for the James Ford Bell Museum, which it has planned for the St. Paul campus. The UniversityâÄôs original $24 million bonding request was part of a larger, statewide bonding request that was approved by the Legislature during its last session, and would have funded two-thirds of the $36 million building. The museumâÄôs request was one of the items vetoed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty when he signed the bill. The museum was one of several items cut to avoid risking the stateâÄôs strong credit rating and low interest rates, according to a statement Pawlenty attached to the bill. The new request would include an adjustment for inflation, and would need to be approved by the Board of Regents before it could be sent to the Legislature. âÄúWeâÄôre bringing it back this year because we think there are some legislators who are interested in trying to get it back again because it had been approved by the Legislature,âÄù said Donna Peterson an associate vice president in University Relations, though she couldnâÄôt say when it would be brought to the Regents. Susan Weller, director of the Bell Museum, said around $9 million of the UniversityâÄôs portion has already been raised. Regent Dallas Bohnsack said the opportunity would be tough to pass up, especially with the large percentage of the UniversityâÄôs contribution already raised and the potential to raise more. The new location would have an outdoor component that would be landscaped to represent MinnesotaâÄôs diverse environment. It will be used year-round as a classroom, both for museum staff to teach student groups and for professors on the St. Paul campus to augment their classes, Weller said. The current space isnâÄôt very flexible, and the museum had to move a wall once to get a piece of an exhibit in. The new museum would have a 6,000-square-foot gallery dedicated to showing traveling exhibits and large portions of the museumâÄôs own collections. The move would also reunite the museum with those collections, which are currently stored on the St. Paul campus. The new location, at the corner of Cleveland and Larpenteur avenues, would also provide on-site parking. The University began looking at either a move or a renovation for the museum in early 2001. The St. Paul campus was selected as a site years ago, but the request reached the Legislature for the first time last year. Bohnsack said he anticipates strong support from groups at the Legislature hoping to create jobs. Peterson said the University anticipates support in the Legislature because it approved the project last year. The University would likely also ask for some money for Higher Education Asset Preservation and Rehabilitation in the bonding request. âÄúIf the Legislature decides to do a bonding bill, we would have this in front of them,âÄù Peterson said.