Fading into history

Any student who does their homework will uncover a far stronger case for what isnâÄôt just another âÄúunnecessary development,âÄù as Robert Downs stated in his Monday column. The James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History is an institution that does not claim to offer an anthropological history of any sort, rather, a natural history of our state. Natural history is a study more aptly described as natural sciences; it involves gathering information about our natural world and the organisms in it âÄî greatly contributing to the advancement of biology and other evolutionary sciences. An old, dark building may not be the best way to offer such a study to the public anymore: a public that expands beyond that of some seemingly egocentric University students to include naturalists, scientists, museum-goers, families and school children of all ages, especially those who live in suburban and inner-city areas who havenâÄôt been exposed to much of the natural world before. In an era with dwindling science scores, an era in which an appreciation of the natural world seems almost nonexistent for many, it seems that institutions like the Bell Museum are more needed than ever. However, museums across the country are modernizing, integrating new media and technologies to make exhibits flashier, more interactive and overall, more engaging. The Bell, originally established as the stateâÄôs natural history collection and later made into a museum, does indeed feature âÄúsophisticated, weathered wood.âÄù Aging woodwork is one of many age-related problems the museum faces: a seasonal lack of hot-water, no air conditioning, old lighting fixtures, fading dioramas, occasional gas pipe leaks, bugs, mice and above all, a struggle to appeal to and engage a media and technology-based society. To compensate, Bell museum staff have been working on plans for a new museum for years, one that facilitates not just University research, but art, modern teaching methods, science education and new ways to foster an appreciation for the natural world: the very first step in creating a lifetime awareness of the need for conservation. The museum may not be especially profitable but attendance figures can be misleading. The museumâÄôs income is not just based on walk-in visitors. Tours, classroom programs, off-site programs, outreach, scout badges, lectures and events bring in visitors and revenue. As of late, attendance has been down, yet another reason to build a new facility âÄî one that brings in more people to the museum. Funding for tuition is not in competition with funding for the Bell. Even if it were, providing a $50 tuition relief to students for a single semester isnâÄôt thinking very long term. A new facility will ensure that the Bell Museum continues to educate and inspire anyone who takes a moment to explore the natural sciences, young or old, for generations to come. Katy Manley University student